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How Science Was Done 
Before and After Global English 

Scientific Babel 

Scientific Babel 


Michael D. Gordin 

The University of Chicago Press Chicago and London 

Michael d. gordin is the Rosengarten Professor of Modern and 
Contemporary History at Princeton University and the author of 
The Pseudoscience Wars, also published by the University of Chicago Press. 

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 
The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London 
© 2015 by Michael D. Gordin. 

All rights reserved. Published 2015. 

Printed in the United States of America 

24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 12345 

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-00029-9 (cloth) 

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-00032-9 (e-book) 
doi: io.72o8/chicago/978o226ooo329.ooi.oooi 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Gordin, Michael D., author. 

Scientific Babel : how science was done before 
and after global English / Michael D. Gordin, 
pages cm 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 
isbn 978-0-226-00029-9 (cloth : alk. paper) — 
isbn 978-0-226-00032-9 (e-book) 

1. Communication in science. 2. English language — 

Technical English. I. Title. 

Q223.G67 2015 
50i'.4 — dc23 

© This paper meets the requirements of ansi/niso Z39. 48-1992 
(Permanence of Paper). 

To my language teachers 


Introduction: Talking Science i 
Chapter i: The Perfect Past That Almost Was 23 
Chapter 2: The Table and the Word 5/ 
Chapter 3: Hydrogen Oxygenovich 79 
Chapter 4: Speaking Utopian 103 
Chapter 5: The Wizards of Ido 131 
Chapter 6: The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 
Chapter 7: Unspeakable 187 
Chapter 8: Tire Dostoevsky Machine 213 
Chapter 9: All the Russian That’s Fit to Print 241 
Chapter 10: Tire Fe Curtain 267 
Chapter 11 : Anglophonia 293 
Conclusion: Babel Beyond 317 

Acknowledgments 327 List of Archives 331 
Notes 333 Index 403 


Talking Science 

Les savants des autres nations a qui nous avons donne l’exemple, ont 
cru avec raison qu’il ecriraient encore mieux dans leur langue que dans 
la notre. L’Angleterre nous a done imites; TAllemagne, ou le latin sem- 
blait setre refugie, commence insensiblement a en perdre l’usage: je ne 
doute pas qu’elle ne soit bientot suivie par les Suedois, les Danois et les 
Russes. Ainsi, avant la fin du XVIIIe siecle, un philosophe qui voudra 
s’instruire a fond des decouvertes de ses predecesseurs, sera contraint de 
charger sa memoire de sept a huit langues differences; et apres avoir con- 
sume a les apprendre le temps le plus precieux de sa vie, il mourra avant 
de commencer a s’instruire.* 

, 1 


You are able to read this sentence. That is obvious, but it is also quite 
an achievement. You read English; you may or may not speak it. Some- 
where along the way, you learned the language, either relatively pain- 
lessly as a child or with significant exertion later (how significant de- 
pends a lot on who you are, how you were taught, and what other 
languages you already happened to know). This book is for both kinds 
of English-users, but it is not fundamentally a book about English. It is 
a history of scientific languages, the set of languages by means of which 
scientific knowledge has been produced and communicated. Whether 

*“The scholars of other nations, to whom we have provided an example, believed 
with reason that they would write even better in their language than in ours. England 
has thus imitated us; Germany, where Latin seems to have taken refuge, begins insen- 
sibly to lose the use of it: I do not doubt that it will soon be followed by the Swedes, 
the Danes, and the Russians. Thus, before the end of the 18th century, a philoso- 
pher who would like to instruct himself about his predecessors’ discoveries will be 
required to load his memory with seven to eight different languages; and after having 
consumed the most precious time of his life in acquiring them, he will die before 
having begun to instruct himself.” 


you are a scientist or have studiously avoided the sciences throughout 
your life (so far), the history of scientific languages is a constitutive part 
of your world. The story ends with the most resolutely monoglot inter- 
national community the world has ever seen — we call them scientists — 
and the exclusive language they use to communicate today to their 
international peers is English. The collapse into monolingualism is, his- 
torically speaking, a very strange outcome, since most of humanity for 
most of its existence has been to a greater or lesser degree multilingual. 
The goals of this book are not only to show how we came to this point, 
but also to illustrate how deeply anomalous our current state of affairs 
would have seemed in the past. 

For both ends, I have introduced what may seem the book’s oddest 
feature: the footnotes. Every quotation in the text, except the epigraphs, 
appears in English. (The epigraphs, as you can see right here, always 
appear in their original language, and are translated in the first foot- 
note.) For any quotation that was originally composed in a language 
other than English I have, where possible, tracked down the original 
and reproduced it on the bottom of the page, in its original orthogra- 
phy, with my own translation in the text. (When I have been unable to 
do so, I explicitly credit the translator.) I do this not because I am a per- 
fect translator, but rather because I am a flawed one. You may indeed 
find mistakes in some of the renderings, and that is precisely the point. 
Every history has those flaws, but I want to expose the reader to the fric- 
tion caused by languages one knows imperfectly, the alienating quality 
of other people’s words, to make the active translation visible . 2 The past 
did not happen exclusively in English, though many histories make it 
seem as though it did. The footnotes also make the historical trajec- 
tory evident: as the book progresses, fewer and fewer footnotes appear; 
that’s because the conversation in science has transitioned to English. 
(The footnotes can also be fun. Try reading Esperanto — you might like 
it!) Likewise, many of my sources wrote in foreign languages poorly. I 
have left their bad spelling and grammatical infelicities unadorned by 
the scholarly “sic” except in cases of typographical error. You are also, of 
course, free to ignore the footnotes and read the text through entirely in 
English. That is, in truth, how most of science is done today. 

But it wasn’t always that way: the languages of science used to be 
multiple. This is a book about scientific languages , and I use both terms 
with their most straightforward meanings. I certainly do not mean that 
some languages are intrinsically “more scientific” than others (although 
many have made such claims in the past and still do today, as we will 

Talking Science 


see). I define science rather narrowly, consistent with modern Anglo- 
American usage, to refer to what are often further specified as the natu- 
ral sciences. To be even more precise, I focus on the comparatively small 
community of elite, professional scientists, a community that has en- 
gaged in international communication for centuries and maintains to 
the present the highest prestige among investigators of nature. (I ex- 
clude here medicine and certain applied sciences, such as agronomy, in 
part because those practitioners’ need to communicate with a nonscien- 
tist client base introduces significant complicating issues of popular- 
ization that are ancillary to the main issues in this book. 3 ) The narrow- 
ness of science in English is distinctive. Other languages, such as French 
{science), German {Wissenschaft), or Russian (HayKa, nauka ), use the 
term to encompass scholarship in a broad sense, including the social 
sciences and often also the humanities. 4 I follow English usage simply 
out of conceptual economy, although the ways languages have shifted in 
those disciplines are interesting and they exhibit a similar linguistic nar- 
rowing as the “natural sciences.” The natural sciences (physics, biology, 
chemistry) display the phenomenon I am tracking more vividly. 5 1 em- 
phasize these sciences because they are at present almost exclusively in 
English, and they have been so for decades. If you are interested in what 
it would be like to live in a world with one language of communication, 
a world with no Babel, you should look to the natural scientists. They 
come from there. 

At one level, the history of scientific languages is recorded in aca- 
demic publications, as different scholars investigate nature and then try 
to persuade their colleagues of the detailed organization of the universe. 
But it is also a story of informal correspondence, friendly banter at con- 
ferences, government reports about the transformation of the scientific 
infrastructure, press releases, anti-Semitic diatribes, and muttering to 
oneself during a lonely night in the laboratory. This book ranges from 
the poetry of ancient Rome to attempts to communicate with alien 
civilizations, from the nationalist conflicts of the nineteenth century to 
the dawn of computerized machine translation, with a cast of characters 
including the greatest scientists of their day as well as (almost) anony- 
mous librarians, politicians alongside linguists, frenzied debaters over 
the merits of artificial languages spoken by only a few dozen contrasted 
with attempts to standardize a language across the largest land empire 
the world has ever seen. It is an intimate and a public history, as befits 
language — something we all feel intensely about, while at the same time 
sharing it with communities of strangers. 



Here is a truism: scientific activity is communicated in a language. 
I do not simply mean “in words”; I mean in a particular, specific lan- 
guage, shared by a community of speakers. People can have scientific 
thoughts, do scientific experiments, have scientific conversations, in 
whichever language they wish to use — in theory. But in practice, sci- 
ence has not been so conducted. Scientific findings are not usually com- 
municated in Ibo, Bengali, or Polish, at least not at the dawn of the 
twenty-first century, and not at the dawn of the nineteenth, either. Sci- 
ence, as a lived human activity, has always traveled within a highly con- 
strained set of languages. If we adopt the narrow stratum of elite science 
and look at the dominant languages in which it has been communicated 
to the international community of researchers from the beginning of 
recorded history to now, we end up with a rather limited list. Taking 
languages that register a statistically significant proportion of the world 
production of something we might now call science, we find (in alpha- 
betical order): Arabic, Chinese (classical), Danish, Dutch, English, 
French, German, Greek (ancient), Italian, Japanese, Latin, Persian, Rus- 
sian, Sanskrit, Swedish, Syriac, and Turkish (Ottoman). (I apologize 
for those I have excluded at the edges; even if you include them, the 
list does not grow significantly.) There is no other sphere of human cul- 
tural activity — trade, poetry, politics, what have you — that takes place 
in such a limited set of tongues . 6 Behind the truism, therefore, is a fact 
of tremendous importance. This book is about life in Scientific Babel: 
how scientists managed to work among this (limited) profusion of 
tongues, how they hoped to conquer it, and how it came about that the 
Babel was no more. 

Every time you utter something, you need to balance between two 
competing demands. On the one hand, you would like to express your 
internal notions, to say exactly what you are thinking or feeling. Of 
course, this is an ideal; we have all experienced the disconnect between 
what’s in our minds and the clumsiness by which we can formulate it . 7 
Yet, for most of us, we get closest to this ideal in our native language or 
in the language we use most fluently; it is, fundamentally, a speaker- 
centric choice. I call this identity, and it is surely possible for a particu- 
lar speaker to have multiple distinct identities, speaking to children in 
her role as a parent most easily in one language, to a spouse in her role 
as a wife in another, at work as a lawyer in a third. Nonetheless, in this 
kind of speech, the speaker focuses on the capacity to express herself 
or himself in that particular role. But what about the audience? With 

Talking Science 


most utterances, you have some particular recipients in mind, real or 
imagined, present or absent. You want your interlocutor to understand 
what you say, and this is easiest to achieve by using the language your 
listener (or reader) understands best, or at least the strongest language 
you have in common — that is, using what is called by linguists a vehicu- 
lar language. This choice is audience-centric, and I describe it as com- 
munication. Irreducibly, all utterances occupy a spot on the continuum, 
trying to express oneself as accurately as possible while at the same time 
making efforts to be understood correctly . 8 The tension exists within a 
single language — I am not certain that even now I am presenting my 
thoughts accurately in what is both my native language and a vehicular 
language we have already established you understand — but the chal- 
lenge is magnified significantly when you add language barriers to the 

Scientific utterances are no different from ordinary utterances in this 
regard. Today’s overwhelming dominance of one vehicular language 
may give the impression that science naturally trends toward commu- 
nication and away from identity, since one’s scientific peers need to 
vouchsafe the validity of one’s claims — and, indeed, today science works 
this way, which helps explain the pressure toward fewer languages. But 
not necessarily to a single one, for there was a moment when European 
naturalists had a single language — it was called Latin — and they delib- 
erately, consciously chose to give it up. Latin remained a language of 
communication, but it was joined by Dutch, English, Swedish, Italian, 
and some others. Identity was allowed in, to a certain extent, for a par- 
ticular range of tongues. (One might also understand this as communi- 
cation with a different, more local audience, as we will see.) Where com- 
munities fall on the spectrum between identity and communication is 
historically contingent; different tensions are tolerated differently at 
different times, but they have not gone away, even if scientific commu- 
nication happens in a single language. It is, in fact, an omnipresent fea- 
ture of all interchange, strongly dramatized in the case of science by its 
prominent intellectual creativity (identity) and its social organization 
(communication), and that allows us to see how creativity and social or- 
ganization interact within the spheres of language and language choice. 
Yet the dilemma is not symmetric. If you are a native speaker of English, 
your language of identity equals your language of communication; your 
burden is reduced to the irreducible problem of saying what you mean, 
shared by all speakers everywhere, without the additional load of strug- 



FIGURE o.i. Graph of the languages in which science has been published from 
1880 to 2005, plotted as a percentage of the global scientific literature. Ulrich Am- 
mon, “Linguistic Inequality and Its Effects on Participation in Scientific Discourse 
and on Global Knowledge Accumulation — With a Closer Look at the Problems of 
the Second- Rank Language Communities,” Applied Linguistics Review 3, no. 2 (2012): 
333-355.on 338. 

gling with a foreign tongue. 9 That is an enormous privilege, but it is a 
privilege that Anglophones are largely blind to. One goal of this book 
is to make visible this asymmetry and its consequences. 

English is dominant in science today, and we can even say roughly 
how much. Sociolinguists have been collecting data for the past several 
decades on the proportions of the world scientific literature that are 
published in various tongues, which reveal a consistent pattern. Fig. 
0.1 exhibits several striking features, and most of the chapters of this 
book — after an introductory chapter about Latin — move across the 
same years that are plotted here. In each chapter, I focus on a language 
or set of languages in order to highlight the lived experience of scien- 
tists, and those features are sometimes obscured as well as revealed by 
these curves. Starting from the most recent end of this figure and walk- 
ing back, we can begin to uncover elements of this largely invisible story. 
The most obvious and startling aspect of this graph is the dramatic rise 
of English beginning from a low point at 1910. The situation is actually 
even more dramatic than it appears from this graph, for these are per- 
centages of scientific publication — slices of a pie, if you will — and that 

Talking Science 


pie is not static. On the contrary, scientific publication exploded across 
this period, which means that even in the period from 1940 to 1970 
when English seems mostly flat, it is actually a constant percentage of an 
exponentially growing baseline. 10 By the 1990s, we witness a significant 
ramp-up on top of an increasingly massive foundation: waves on top of 
deluges on top of tsunamis of scientific English. This is, in my view, the 
broadest single transformation in the history of modern science, and 
we have no history of it. That is where the book will end, with a cluster 
of chapters focusing on the phenomenon of global scientific English, 
the way speakers of other once dominant languages (principally, French 
and German) adjusted to the change, preceded by how Anglophones in 
the Cold War confronted another prominent feature of the midpoint of 
the graph (1935-1965): the dramatic growth of scientific Russian. 

But, on second glance, one of the most interesting aspects of this 
figure is how much of it is not about English, how the story of scientific 
language correlates with, but does not slavishly follow, the trajectory of 
globalization. Knowledge and power are bedfellows; they are not twins. 
Simply swinging our gaze leftward across the graph sets aside the jugger- 
naut of English and allows other, overshadowed aspects of these curves 
(such as the rise of Russian) to come to the fore. Before Russian, in the 
period 1910 to 1945, the central feature of the graph is no longer English 
but the prominent rise and decline of German as a scientific language. 
German, according to this figure, was the only language ever to overtake 
English since 1880, and during that era a scientist would have had excel- 
lent grounds to conclude that German was well poised to dominate sci- 
entific communication. The story of the twentieth century, which from 
the point of view of the history of globalization is ever-rising English, 
from the perspective of scientific languages might be better reformu- 
lated as the decline of German. That decline started, one can see, before 
the advent of the Nazi regime in 1933, and one of the main arguments 
in this book is that the aftermath of World War I was central in cement- 
ing both the collapse of scientific German and the ballistic ascent of 
English. We can move further left still, and in the period from 1880 to 
1910 we see an almost equal partition of publications, hovering around 
30% apiece for English, French, and German, a set I will call the “tri- 
umvirate.” (The existence of the triumvirate is simply observed as a fact 
in this book; I do not propose to trace the history of its emergence.) 
French underwent a monotonic decline throughout the twentieth cen- 
tury; one gets the impression (although the data is lacking) that this 
decline began before our curve does, but to participants in the scientific 


community at the beginning of our modem story, it appeared stable. 
My narrative for this earlier period comes in two forms: the emergence 
of Russian, with a minor peak in the late nineteenth century, as the first 
new language to threaten to seriously destabilize the triumvirate; and 
the countervailing alternative (never broadly popular but still quite re- 
vealing in microcosm) to replace the multilingual scientific communi- 
cation system with one conducted in a constructed language such as 
Esperanto. Long before all of this data, all of these transformations, 
there was Latin, and that is where the book properly begins. 

Lor all the visual power of the graph, most of this book pushes against 
its most straightforward reading: the seemingly inexorable rise of En- 
glish. Behind the graph lie a million stories, and it is history’s task to 
uncover them. There are other reasons for caution, for starters, we must 
be careful not to take its quantitative proclamations as gospel truth. The 
data comes from abstract journals: periodicals that supply an index of 
abstracts of scientific publications every year, an index to assist in tam- 
ing the avalanche of information. (The history of these objects is an im- 
portant subplot in this book.) A Japanese bibliographer named Minoru 
Tsunoda gathered a list of percentages of publications from numerous 
abstract journals (which he chose to publish in french, but in a Japanese 
journal), and then German sociolinguist Ulrich Ammon — the leading 
researcher today on the question of scientific languages — plotted the 
information in graph form, updating it as new information came in. 11 
Abstract journals are, however, already a simplification of global pro- 
duction, and what we see here is therefore a selection of which periodi- 
cals abstract journals have chosen to include, and this culling obviously 
biases the results toward the dominant languages, for example, 5,986 
scientific and technical journals were published in Brazil in 2007, but 
only 17 were registered in the Science Citation Index, and therefore the 
majority do not show up in this kind of data. 12 That obviously hurts the 
statistics for Portuguese (although quite a few of those journals might 
publish in several languages, or exclusively in English). Abstract jour- 
nals, although they do reflect how elite scientists encounter the cutting- 
edge literature in their fields, do nonetheless generate some distortion, 
and we should view this curve more to gain a qualitative impression 
rather than a rigorous result. And that impression is extremely difficult 
to ignore. 

As is evident from the above, I use the word language in a specific, 
but rather everyday, manner. I have not written a technical linguistic 
study, but neither do I use language in a literary fashion. There is a sense 

Talking Science 


in which we can talk about “scientific languages” metaphorically: that 
scientists use a jargon that is not the same as ordinary language; or that 
biologists and geologists “speak different languages”; or that each indi- 
vidual laboratory has its own particular idiolect that outsiders have a 
hard time penetrating. Much of the scholarship on the history of sci- 
ence and language concerns this metaphorical sense, and a good deal of 
it is of the highest intellectual rigor and utterly fascinating. However, 
precisely this sense, which I will refer to as discourse, is not my quarry 
here . 13 1 mean language in the brute forms of English, Swahili, Korean, 
or Russian. That is, I am interested in which languages people choose 
to use — and not use — in various contexts, at different times, in assorted 
places. I explore the history of these scientific languages mostly from 
1850 to the present (although with a necessary excursus into Latin at the 
beginning), and with a principal focus on Europe and North America, 
with occasional visits to other parts of the globe. The comprehensive 
story is obviously bigger than that and could include all of the world 
over all of recorded history. I restrict myself to this narrower swath for 
two reasons: one intellectual and one practical. The first is that the phe- 
nomenon of global English started there, as did the basic institutions 
of modern science that were exported (sometimes forcibly, sometimes 
not) to other parts of the world. That is one significant justification for 
limiting this first pass, leaving you with a book of manageable size you 
can hold in your hands. 

The second reason is no less important: the languages I happen to 
know are a subset of these languages of European origin, and I cannot 
write a history from sources I cannot read and understand. That is a 
frank admission of ignorance, and you don’t come across such things 
very often in books like this one, but without it you will lack a crucial 
piece for understanding not just this specific book, but any book on the 
question of scientific languages. To write this book I have used sources 
in English, French, German, Russian, Latin, Esperanto, and the latter’s 
offshoot, Ido. 14 I hesitate to say that I “know” these languages, because 
competence in a tongue is always a relative matter, and I am more flu- 
ent and subtle in some of these languages (my native English and also 
Russian) than in others (French and German), and some, such as the 
Latin I learned in order to write this book, are still very much works in 
progress. I pen this confessional paragraph to illustrate several points 
that condition the following historical narrative. 

The first is that knoiuing a language is measured by a standard that 
changes over historical time. Many of the scientists I discuss read and 



published science in three or four languages as a matter of course. Was 
this a vanished race of polyglot naturalists? Of course not. Some of 
them were more linguistically gifted than others, to be sure, but most 
of them managed with a dictionary and consultation with those more 
adept (as I often did). Today, scientists expect their peers to be rela- 
tively fluent not just in reading and writing English, but also speaking 
it. 15 The standard of fluency has gone up; the standard of quantity has 
gone down. The second point is that I happen to read these languages 
and not others. I chose to learn Latin to write this book. I wish I had 
the time and energy to learn Japanese, which has an important role to 
play in the history of scientific languages in the twentieth century, or 
Dutch, which was central in the seventeenth and eighteenth, or Italian, 
which continued its salience into the early nineteenth century. If I had, 
the story you read would be different. (I particularly regret the com- 
parative neglect of East Asia in this account.) The few extant studies 
of scientific languages are written by those who do not know Russian, 
and those renditions look rather different than mine, which empha- 
sizes that language quite a bit. I hope that those with different linguistic 
capacities — or even the same ones, calibrated to different degrees — will 
take the question of languages in communicating knowledge and run 
with it. We need more, and more diverse, accounts. 

It is necessary to state all this up front because of the seemingly uni- 
versal phenomenon of linguistic citation bias. Scholars disproportion- 
ately cite literature in the languages they feel most comfortable with, 
which are often their native languages. According to results cited in one 
1981 study, American and Indian journals offer citations that are 90% 
to English-language literature, which was greater than the proportion 
(roughly 75%) of English material in the scientific literature in that day. 
Quality and even relative quantity, therefore, is not a full explanation. 
Likewise, the French cited 29% French, Germans 22% German, Japa- 
nese 25% Japanese, Soviet researchers 67% Russian — all in greater pro- 
portion than the baseline literature would suggest. (Articles in Chinese 
were cited only in China, for example.) 16 I doubt I am an exception to 
this rule — many of my citations are to Anglophone literature, and I in- 
clude almost no citations outside of my dominant linguistic core set. 
The scholarship you read is always biased by the linguistic capacities of 
the scholar. It’s only honest to admit it. 

This is all the more important because of a very widespread notion 
that translation is trivial with respect to science, such that some studies 
neglect to mention a language barrier at all, or recognize that “[a]l- 

Talking Science 


though language of publication is an inescapable feature of scientific 
communication, it is most often treated as background noise .” 17 Or, in 
what amounts to the same thing, that science has uniform content and 
is therefore beyond translation: “Scientific prose has in fact a valuable 
and a not uninteresting characteristic — almost alone among all the dif- 
ferent categories of prose it can be translated into languages other than 
the language in which it was first written, not merely satisfactorily but 
perfectly .” 18 Such statements are based on a philosophical assumption 
that scientific claims represent the world unfiltered, and therefore sci- 
entific utterances are a kind of “metalanguage” that are only partially 
expressed in any individual tongue but are equally true in all of them. 
This belief is a central one to many of the scientists we will encounter in 
this book, but it is a view that is complicated by the experiences of those 
individuals who daily have to translate between and among various sci- 
entific languages. For them, translation has been a source of frustration, 
and often conceptual confusion. 

The power of this notion of a metalanguage stems from the unques- 
tionable success of mathematization of the sciences . 19 When I have dis- 
cussed this project with both scientists and humanists, I have often been 
told that there is no need to pay attention to the languages in which 
science is written because scientists can simply read the equations and 
figure out what is going on. This might be true in certain cases, but it is 
hardly true generally. Even for an ostensibly “hard” science like chem- 
istry, papers contain more than isolated chemical formulae and mathe- 
matical equations. You read descriptions of the reaction, analyses of 
colors and odors, detailed explanations of method. This verbosity is one 
of the reasons why the emphasis in this book will be upon chemistry, 
which shares both in mathematical formulations and in more descrip- 
tive scientific traditions, and therefore exposes the capacities and limits 
of each. Even in cases of strongly mathematized sciences, like classical 
mechanics, a bare equation never tells you all you need to know. Con- 
sider this simple one: 

M “ WgT z /l 

What does it say? Without further context, you can tell me that M is 
directly proportional to the square of T, and inversely proportion to /, 
but what does it mean ? Mathematical equations are incredibly power- 
ful tools, economically expressing detailed relationships and enabling 
stupendous manipulations that seem impossible without the formal- 



ism. But they are also parasitic on the human languages that surround 
them, the words that tell you what the variables represent. 20 Without 
the context, an equation like the above is neither true nor false as a sci- 
entific claim. 

So what does that expression say? This particular formula is Indian- 
American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s rendition of 
Proposition XXIV, Theorem XIX, in Book II of Isaac Newton’s Phi- 
losophiae naturalis principia mathematical, usually abbreviated as the 
Principia, of 1687. 21 Here is what the text says: 

In simple pendulums whose centers of oscillation are equally distant 
from the center of suspension, the quantities of matter are in a ratio 
compounded of the ratio of the weights and the squared ratio of the 
times of oscillation in a vacuum .“ 

The formula above transcribes this prose, and describes how a pendu- 
lum moves. However, the above English is not what Newton wrote, 
but instead is I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman’s 1999 translation 
of the Principia. (Chandrasekhar used an earlier translation.) What 
Newton actually wrote was: 

Quantitates materiae in corporibus funependulis, quorum centra 
oscillationum a centro suspensionis aequaliter distant, sunt in ra- 
tione composita ex ratione ponderum & ratione duplicata tempo - 
rum oscillationum in vacuo. 23 

Is that the same thing as the formula? Well, it is and it isn’t. My point 
is that calling mathematics a language is a move in the direction of dis- 
course, and does not, in any event, overcome the problem of the lan- 
guage barrier. 

Mathematicians experienced the same tension between identity and 
communication in their professional lives; the language barrier and the 
difficulty of translation have historically been neither incidental nor ir- 
relevant to mathematics, washed away by the balm of the formalism. 
The mathematical community today, like other scientific communities, 
has also been strongly squeezed (by publishers, by international confer- 
ences, by the exigencies of communication) into English, but formalism 
does indeed help, for the transition has been less total and less rapid 
than in the more descriptive sciences, and mathematicians are often 
justly proud of their ability to read papers published in other (usually 

Talking Science 


European) languages. In the late nineteenth century, German domi- 
nated mathematical publication, but not exclusively, and mathemati- 
cians were expected to keep track of developments in several tongues — 
not just through reading, but also through lecturing and conversing 
with their international peers. 24 But even linguistically gifted mathe- 
maticians recognized that the formalism was a vital tool in bridging 
Scientific Babel. In 1909, French mathematician Henri Poincare gave a 
series of lectures at the German university town of Gottingen, then the 
epicenter of world mathematics. For his final lecture, he chose to aban- 
don German: 

Today I have to speak French, and I must apologize for it. It is true 
that in my earlier lectures I expressed myself in German, in very bad 
German: to speak foreign languages, you see, is to want to walk while 
one is lame; it is necessary to have crutches; my crutches were until 
now mathematical formulas, and you could not imagine what a sup- 
port they are for an orator who does not feel himself very firm. — In 
this evening’s lecture, I do not want to use formulas, I am without 
crutches, and that is why I must speak French.* 25 

I assume most of his audience understood it: languages had been built 
into their scientific training. Fearning how to handle yourself in sev- 
eral languages, even only passively — being able to listen and read but 
not speak or write — was part of the scientific life. Both the (compara- 
tive) equality of the burden and the degree of fluency have changed ; the 
problem has not. 

Today’s situation raises obvious issues of fairness, whereby non- 
Anglophones have to study English intensively and deploy it with some 
high level of fluency, while native speakers of English can conduct their 
science without that educational burden. Questions of equity will come 
up often in our story. But aside from those, does this almost total domi- 
nance by a single language — or, earlier, a smaller set of languages (for 

*“Aujourd’hui, je suis oblige de parler fran^ais, et il faut que je men excuse. Il est vrai 
que dans mes precedentes conferences je me suis exprime en allemand, en un tres 
mauvais allemand: parler les langues etrangeres, voyez-vous, c’est vouloir marcher 
lorsqu’on est boiteux; il est necessaire d ’avoir des bequilles; mes bequilles, c’etaient 
jusqu’ici les formules mathematiques et vous ne sauriez vous imaginer quel appui 
elles sont pour un orateur qui ne se sent pas tres solide. — Dans la conference de ce 
soir, je ne veux pas user de formules, je suis sans bequilles, et c’est pourquoi je dois 
parler fran^ais.” 



Albanian and Zulu were never even “minor languages” of science) — 
have implications for the content of science? That is, does it matter 
that science has a particular linguistic structure ? There are two ways of 
understanding that latter query, one philosophical and the other prag- 

Taking the first tack, we come to the Whorfian hypothesis, named 
after Benjamin Lee Whorfi a part-time linguist (and full-time Con- 
necticut fire inspector) who argued for a strong form of linguistic rela- 
tivism that posited that the languages in which we think not only shape 
our perceptions of reality, but in some way determine them. 26 Whorf 
formulated his basic principle of linguistic “relativity” (a nod to Albert 
Einstein’s principle of relativity from physics) — namely, that “all ob- 
servers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture 
of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can 
in some way be calibrated” — in a series of articles published in 1940 in 
Technology Review, the house journal of his alma mater, MIT. He ex- 
plicitly situated this enormously influential idea in the context of scien- 
tists, arguing that we should not be surprised that there was consider- 
able agreement about the laws of nature, since those were developed 
by individuals speaking closely related languages: French, English, and 
German, all members of the Indo-European language family, just like 
the ur-scientific language, Latin. Whorf contended that a person’s na- 
tive language generated the categories through which she viewed the 
world, so that speakers of languages with very different notions of, say, 
time — like Latin and Hopi — would come to different physical concep- 
tions. Tell me what you speak, and I will tell you what you think. What 
then should we make of the agreement in the sciences, given that not 
all scientists, even at the time of Whorf ’s writing, were native speakers 
of Indo-European tongues ? No worries, for Whorf: “That modern Chi- 
nese or Turkish scientists describe the world in the same terms as West- 
ern scientists means, of course, only that they have taken over bodily the 
entire Western system of rationalizations, not that they have corrobo- 
rated that system from their native posts of observation.” 27 Whorf’s 
notion has been tremendously controversial, and the evidence for it (for 
example, different ways of parsing colors) is strongly contested. 28 None- 
theless, if it were true, even in a limited degree, then one might worry 
that the reduction in scientific languages has produced a concomitant 
reduction in conceptual breadth. I am agnostic on the outcome of this 
debate; I only note that the debate itself is an emergent part of our his- 

Talking Science 1 5 

tory, and motivated many of the scientists and intellectuals we will meet 
in later chapters. 

Repeatedly in the pages that follow, we will find instances of scien- 
tists arguing that the choice of language of publication makes an active 
difference; whether that claim seems credible very much depends on 
the situation, and this brings us to the second way in which the choice 
of a scientific language matters. Until the almost universal dominance 
of English, choosing to publish in a particular language always carried 
the possibility that you would not be understood, simply because your 
peers could not (or would not) read the work. The language barrier can 
be understood as a kind of friction, and regardless of whether it changes 
the content of the science (as Whorfians would have it), there is no 
question that language friction has shaped the manner in which scien- 
tists have operated in the real world. Before beginning the story from 
the dusty conjugations of Latin, it would be helpful to get a sense of 
how such a phenomenon worked in the historical past, thereby illus- 
trating how many well-worn episodes in the history of science take on a 
different tenor if viewed through the lens of scientific languages. In that 
spirit, allow me to offer here a brief account of one of the most arche- 
typal set-pieces: the Chemical Revolution of the late eighteenth cen- 
tury. There are few topics in the history of science which have been so 
often addressed in terms of language than the development in the final 
decades of the eighteenth century of the oxygen theory of chemistry by 
Frenchman Antoine Lavoisier and the overthrow of Englishman Joseph 
Priestley’s phlogiston theory of combustion. This scholarship uses to 
the fullest the notion of language in the metaphorical sense. 29 

The basic events of the Chemical Revolution lend themselves well to 
this kind of analysis. Beginning around 1770, both Priestley and Lavoi- 
sier came to be dissatisfied with the regnant theory of burning, which 
posited the existence of a principle of combustion called phlogiston. 
For decades, combustion had been defined as the exit of phlogiston 
from a substance: wood stopped burning when all the phlogiston had 
left; certain gases, notably “fixed air” (we now call it carbon dioxide), 
snuffed out flames because these gases could absorb no more phlogis- 
ton. It was a wonderful qualitative theory, providing a theory of acidity 
and color to boot, but it had problems of quantity — burned substances 
seemed to be heavier than their source materials, meaning phlogiston 
might have “negative weight” — and other difficulties associated with 
the proliferation of new “airs” (Lavoisier called them gases ) released in 


chemical manipulations. Priestley sought to reform phlogiston theory 
to account for the objections; Lavoisier threw the whole notion over- 
board. For him, burning was not the release of phlogiston, but combi- 
nation with a new gas, that he dubbed “oxygen,” from the surrounding 
air. Given that everyone has heard of oxygen, and phlogiston survives 
only in the anecdotes of historians of science, you can surmise who won. 
For Lavoisier, it was a victory of method, which was nothing more than 
discourse: “Thus an analytic method is a language, a language is an ana- 
lytic method, and the two expressions are, in a certain sense, synony- 
mous .”* 30 What might we learn if we examine this same dispute by trac- 
ing the languages in which it was conducted? That is, as a disagreement 
between a man who functioned primarily in French, and one who wrote 
his important works in English? 

French has often been proclaimed the central language of intellectual 
life, including natural philosophy, in the eighteenth century . 31 Intellectu- 
als across Europe either read the French language, or devoured vernacu- 
lar translations of French texts, or, failing that, translations into Latin 
from the French. The rise of the French vernacular was a long time in 
coming, dating plausibly back to before the ninth century, though Old 
French began to stabilize into a modern standard, centered on the Pari- 
sian dialect, only in the twelfth century, and by the seventeenth — and 
the reign of Louis XIV, le roi soleil — a powerful myth of an unchange- 
able, perfect French had already materialized . 32 When Louis revoked 
the Edict of Nantes in 1685, newly persecuted Protestant Huguenots 
fanned out across Europe, carrying the prestigious French language with 
them . 33 Tlie Treaty of Rastatt in 1714 began the enshrining of French as 
the leading language of international diplomacy, even among the Ger- 
manophone principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, a transformation 
complete by the Treaty of Hubertusburg (1763), when the French text 
acquired priority over the Latin . 34 These well-known milestones demon- 
strate the salience and prestige of the Parisian language. 

French was so ubiquitous in intellectual life that the Prussian Acad- 
emy of Sciences in Berlin operated in the language and played a cen- 
tral role in propagating it as the only fitting tongue for scholarly inter- 
change, most notably in its 1783 prize question. Essays were solicited 
to answer the following question (posed, ironically, originally in Latin, 
but most commonly rendered in French): 

*“Ainsi une methode analytique est une langue; une langue est une methode analy- 
tique, et ces deux expressions sont, dans un certain sens, synonymes.” 

Talking Science 


What has rendered the French language universal? 

— Why does it merit this prerogative? 

— May one presume that it will maintain it?* 35 

The prize was jointly awarded to the Comte de Rivarol, for an essay now 
lauded as a monument to French prose style, and Johann Christoph 
Schwab, whose response was submitted in German but was widely cir- 
culated in an 1803 French translation by Denis Robelot. Both of them 
echoed long-standing Enlightenment notions that the dominance of 
French was not merely a consequence of Parisian political power, but a 
logical entailment of the clarity of the language. 36 For Rivarol, 

[wjhat distinguishes our language from ancient and modern lan- 
guages is the order and the construction of the sentence. This order 
must always be direct and necessarily clear. French names at first the 
subject of the discourse, then the verb which is the action, and finally 
the object of this action: this is what comprises common sense. [. . .] 
French syntax is incorruptible. From this that admirable clarity re- 
sults, the eternal foundation of our language. That which is not clear 
is not French-, that which is not clear is still English, Italian, Greek, 
or Latin. 1 37 

And for Schwab, addressing his German compatriots, the state of affairs 
was similar: 

I thus say: not only should we not be jealous of the empire of the 
French language, but we should join our wishes and our efforts 
so that it becomes universal. The extensive connections which are 
formed on all sides among Europeans provides them with an abso- 
lutely necessary universal instrument of communication. Latin is 

*“Qu’est-ce qui a rendu la langue fran^aise universelle? 

— Pourquoi merite-t-elle cette prerogative? 

— Est-il a presumer quelle la conserve?” 

“Ce qui distingue notre langue des langues anciennes et modernes, c’est l’ordre et 
la construction de la phrase. Cet ordre doit toujours etre direct et necessairement 
clair. Le fran^ais nomme d’abord le sujet du discours, ensuite le verbe qui est Faction, 
et enfin Yobjet de cette action: voila ce qui constitue le sens commun.[. . .] [L]a syn- 
taxe fran^aise est incorruptible. C’est de la que resulte cette admirable clarte, base 
eternelle de notre langue. Ce qui nest pas clair nest pas franfais; ce qui n’est pas clair 
est encore anglais, italien, grec ou latin.” 



dead, it cannot be this universal instrument. The language of the 
Frenchman has become this [instrument] because of its merit; let it 
therefore retain its universality.* 38 

These quotations resemble rather strikingly comments about German 
in the early twentieth century, and English in the early twenty-first. 
Nothing seems clearer to native speakers than the limpidity of their 
own tongue. You would scarcely guess from these paeans to French’s 
universality that in the midst of the French Revolution in the 1790s, 
FFenri Gregoire estimated that French was dominant in only 15 of the 
country’s 89 departments, sharing the stage with German, Basque, 
Breton, Occitan, Provencal, and other patois. One of the great cru- 
sades of the early Revolution was, in fact, to make French universal in 
France ? 9 

At the moment of the other revolution, then — the Chemical one — 
French was simultaneously touted as a universal scholarly language and 
yet not quite one. We know that Priestley understood French fairly well, 
keeping abreast of publications that came out of the anti-phlogistonist 
group around Paris in that language and in Latin. (Priestley also taught 
Latin and possibly Greek, and studied “FFigh Dutch” — what we now 
call German — in order to follow the scientific literature from Cen- 
tral Europe. 40 ) The new chemical journal, the Annales de Chimie et de 
Physique, accepted submissions only in Lrench, and the British simply 
read it that way. (An early effort at translation foundered due to lack of 
interest. 41 ) We also know that, although Lavoisier had a good grounding 
in classical languages, he understood no English. 42 As a native speaker 
of what was touted as the universal language, he saw no need to learn 
the awkward speech from across the Channel, for the English would 
necessarily read his own work without his publishing in their language. 
This insularity concomitant with a language’s dominance is a common 
historical pattern, and we will encounter it many times. 

Nonetheless, Lavoisier knew that the English “pneumatic chemists” 

*“Je dis done: non-seulement nous ne devons pas etre jaloux de l’empire de la langue 
fran^oise, mais nous devons reunir nos voeux et nos efforts, pour quelle devienne uni- 
verselle. Les liaisons etendues qui se sont formees de tous cotes, entre les Europeens, 
leur rendent un instrument universel de communication absolument necessaire. La 
langue latine est une langue morte, elle ne peut etre cet instrument universel. C’est 
par son merite que celle des Francois lest devenu; quelle conserve done son univer- 

Talking Science 


were discovering new airs and that their modifications of the phlogis- 
ton concept could be central to his own theory of combustion. How 
did Lavoisier learn what the Britons were up to ? The same way language 
barriers in science were always transcended before they ceased to exist: 
through translations and polyglot collaborators. Lavoisier read about 
the pneumatic chemistry experiments of Stephen Hales, published in 
English in 1727, through the German Johann Theodor Eller’s thesis on 
the elements, published in French in the 1746 Memoires of the Berlin 
Academy. Lavoisier came across it twenty years later. 43 He eventually 
read Hales in the 1735 translation of the distinguished French natural- 
ist, the Comte de Buffon. Translations slow things down. But Priest- 
ley’s work he discovered more rapidly. He heard of it through itiner- 
ant factotums who called themselves intelligencers. Jean Hyacinthe de 
Magellan came across Priestley’s English-language publications on the 
release of “dephlogisticated air” — an invigorating gas that supported 
combustion brilliantly, and that we now call oxygen — and quickly pro- 
duced a long summary in French, forwarding it along with the original 
to Trudaine de Montigny, the Director of the Royal Bureau of Com- 
merce. The latter was an amateur scientist and rewarded Magellan’s tips, 
while at the same time passing the note along to Lavoisier, who read it 
to the Academie de Sciences on 18 July 1772. A translation of Priest- 
ley was published the following year. 44 In October 1774, Priestley him- 
self traveled to France, and his Experiments and Observations , including 
the crucial experiments on dephlogisticated air, came out the following 
year, translated by Jacques Gibelin. 45 Lavoisier never had to budge from 
his native language. 

Priestley’s Irish colleague Richard Kirwan stepped up to defend 
phlogiston against the oxygen chemists. Kirwan learned about the 
French views the old-fashioned way: by reading them in the original. 
He published his Essay on Phlogiston in 1787, one of the most sophis- 
ticated chemical treatises of the decade and the last major defense of 
Priestley’s reformed theory. Lavoisier and his peers had to respond to 
it — but how? They couldn’t read it. Lavoisier turned to his wife, Marie- 
Anne Pierrette Paulze, who had learned English precisely for such pur- 
poses. Her French translation came out only a year later, complete with 
extensive footnotes and interstitial essays by her husband and his col- 
leagues, dissecting and refuting Kirwan’s arguments. (She was aided by 
Madame Picardet, the assistant and mistress of Lavoisier’s fellow chem- 
ist Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau. 46 ) The challenge, she noted in 
an unsigned preface, was formidable: 



If the French Chemists whom [Kirwan] has battled destroy his ob- 
jections, perhaps one would be right to conclude that there was 
nothing solid in making them? It is principally upon this last con- 
sideration that one is determined to undertake the Translation of 
the Essay on Phlogiston: one has tried to render it as literally as the 
difference of the languages can allow, & to express, in the clearest 
and most precise manner, Mr. Kirwan’s ideas: the extreme exacti- 
tude which scientific matters demand requires the greatest severity 
in the choice of expressions.* 47 

This French edition was then translated back into English in 1789, com- 
plete with the anti-phlogistonist commentaries. 48 Kirwan was not con- 
vinced, but he retired from the fray. After that, Priestley was the lone de- 
fender of his revised phlogiston chemistry, while Lavoisier’s theory and 
the accompanying nomenclature was translated and distributed across 
Europe (although not without significant linguistic obstacles). 49 

Of course, the Chemical Revolution was centrally about concepts 
of combustion, and nothing in the above brief story disputes that. But 
if we pay attention to the frictions and asymmetries imposed by Scien- 
tific Babel, by the need to translate from English into French, and not 
from French into English — all at a moment when the cultural status of 
French as a universal language was both taken for granted and not at 
all secure, not even in France — we are forced to pay attention to things 
like timing, social status, the labor of bibliographic searching, and cul- 
tural miscommunications. Such hiccups, backtracks, and rethinkings 
are at the heart of this book, which focuses less on grand demographic 
and geopolitical transformations than on the careers and perceptions 
of individual scientists, struggling to understand and make themselves 
understood in a polyglot world. 

Reading the story of the Chemical Revolution in miniature also 
introduces the major science that will dominate the account that fol- 

*“Si les Chimistes Frar^ois qu’il a combattus detruisent ses objections, peut-etre 
sera-t-on en droit de conclurre qu’il n’y en a pas de solides a leur faire? C’est princi- 
palement d’apres cette derniere consideration, qu’on s’est determine a entreprendre 
la Traduction de l’Essai sur le Phlogistique: on s’est applique a la rendre aussi litterale 
que la difference des langues a pu le permettre, & a exprimer, de la maniere la plus 
claire & la plus precise, les idees de M. Kirwan: l’extreme exactitude qu’exigent les 
matieres scientifiques, oblige a la plus grande severite dans le choix des expressions.” 

Talking Science 


lows. In order to rein in the proliferating cases of language, translation, 
and counter-translation culled from the history of science of the past 
several centuries, I have emphasized the science of chemistry, although 
I have not been slavish about this and have gladly appropriated stories 
from mathematics to botany to physics when they serve to illustrate a 
point. There are three reasons why chemistry provides a fitting entree 
into the world of scientific languages. The first, as we have just seen, 
is that chemistry and language have been explicitly entwined from its 
modern beginnings in the eighteenth century, for chemistry is a sci- 
ence of description, taxonomy, and nomenclature as much as it is about 
test tubes, pipettes, and Bunsen burners. Chemists worry about what to 
name things and how to make those names correspond across human 
languages. Second, chemistry has its own formulae, established in the 
early nineteenth century and serving as another foundation that high- 
lights the tension between the universality of the symbolism and the 
diversity of individual chemists’ tongues. 50 And, third, sheer numbers: 
chemistry was, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, simply the 
largest science, spanning the gamut from pharmaceuticals to dyestuffs 
to weaponry to quantum theory. The larger the science, the more global 
its span, the more Scientific Babel becomes visible. There are of course 
other histories on these questions that could be written. For now, I will 
begin here. 

Where, precisely, is that ? The core of this book traces the story from 
the consolidation of the triumvirate of English, French, and German 
around 1850 — that consolidation itself is skipped over, and must be 
left to another history — and then follows the graph of scientific lan- 
guages forward, moving through the decades up to the present. Each 
chapter focuses on a principal language (Russian, Esperanto, Ido, Ger- 
man, English) but not exclusively so, because we cannot understand the 
history of any individual language without seeing how its users deploy 
it in dialogue with its competitors, shaping it to the lacunae of others. 
Certain characters trace through several chapters, others blaze across 
the storyline briefly before fading away. Some episodes or themes could 
have found a home in any of several chapters, and I have addressed each 
where it seemed most fitting. Along the way, each chapter presents a 
different central question in thinking about scientific languages: from 
translation to publishing, from computerization to emigration, from 
standardizing a new scientific language to attempting to preserve a ven- 
erable one from extinction. It is perhaps difficult to see these various ex- 



periments at transcending the dilemmas of Scientific Babel as hopefully 
as their advocates did, given that we know the outcome. It is important 
to underscore, however, that the actors in these pages did not know 
how things were going to turn out — they knew only where things had 
begun, in their Western, European scientific tradition. And so this book 
begins where they thought it should: with the dream of universal Latin. 


The Perfect Past That 
Almost Was 

Nec me animi fallit Graiorum obscura reperta 
difficile inlustrare Latinis versibus esse, 
multa novis verbis praesertim cum sit agendum 
propter egestatem linguae et rerum novitatemf. . .].* 



All languages are, in an important sense, imagined. This might sound 
absurd: you use language every day; I am using it right now to put these 
words in sequence in order to convey meaning. What’s imaginary about 
that ? But I did not say “imaginary.” I said “imagined.” The things that 
we refer to as languages — Swahili, Mongolian, Thai, English — are not 
objects sitting out there in the world, like a peculiar rock or a specific 
yellow clapboard house. All around us, words flow (spoken, written, 
gestured), and we use those words to communicate with other people. 
Sometimes, communication fails. If you don’t know Telugu and your 
neighbor addresses you in it, then mutual intelligibility is zero. If you 
know Russian and your neighbor knows Ukrainian, then mutual in- 
telligibility can be quite sizable. You are communicating even though 
you are not speaking the same language. If you both use English, then 
mutual intelligibility is almost total. Almost, but not quite — and that is 
the essence of what I mean by “imagined.” We each speak our own idio- 
lect, our own storehouses of words put together by our own grammars. 
When our own specific set of language rules meshes with someone else’s, 
we call that speaking the same language. It is an imagined convergence. 

Imagined in precisely the same sense that Holland or Canada is imag- 
ined. There are borders to nations, which are sometimes natural barriers 

*“Nor does it escape my mind that the dark discoveries of the Greeks / Are difficult 
to illuminate in Latin verses, / Principally since one must make many new words / 
Because of the poverty of the language and the novelty of thingsf. . 

2 4 


(a chain of mountains, a deep river) and sometimes merely conventions, 
lines drawn by explicit agreement or simply by habit. But on the edge 
between Canada and Minnesota, it is not obvious which side you are 
on unless someone with the imprimatur of officialdom tells you: Mani- 
toba. Likewise, on the conceptual border between Dutch and German 
sits a range of language mixtures, blends that are purged through formal 
education. What we do — routinely, habitually, necessarily — is draw ar- 
tificial lines around tongues and designate them as separate. 77.w^person 
is speaking English; this one speaks Welsh. The woman there is speak- 
ing English too, she’s just from Glasgow. (We imagine that as English.) 
Languages are no less real for being imagined, and it matters how they 
are imagined, and by whom. The entity that Chaucer would have called 
“English” is not the same as Shakespeare’s, or Hemingway’s, or yours. 

“Scientific languages” are either specific forms of a given language 
that are used in conducting science, or they are the set of distinct lan- 
guages in which science is done. In either event, we are talking about 
imagined constructs, and the goal of this book is to trace out the his- 
torical variability and specificity of both meanings over time: how they 
relate to each other, how they diverge, how the set of languages that 
can participate grows or shrinks. Since this is a history of Western sci- 
ence, we must begin with the most persistent archetype of a scientific 
language: Latin. Almost every time a person makes an assertion about 
scientific languages, their imagined yardstick is the native language of a 
Mediterranean city-state that flourished over two thousand years ago. 

Latin has been imagined in two primary ways in the history of West- 
ern science from the early modern period (roughly, fifteenth through 
eighteenth centuries) to the present. Those living in a world surrounded 
by various learned languages — French, Dutch, German, Italian, and so 
on — tended to imagine Latin either as a Paradise lost, a moment of uni- 
versal comity before the descent of Babel, or as an artificial straight- 
jacket that Europe is better oft without. Readers of this book, however, 
do not live in such a multilingual universe; for you, science is per- 
formed almost universally in English. The contemporary status of En- 
glish changes the way we view Latin. If you think that one language for 
science improves efficiency and understanding, the rejection of Latin 
appears as a monument to human folly; if you lament the loss of indi- 
viduality and heterogeneity, then we are back to Paradise lost, but this 
time our Eden is polyglot. 2 English has sometimes been called a lingua 
franca — a problematic category named after a complex trading pidgin 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


of the Renaissance Mediterranean — but that is not quite right. English 
is not a pidgin, it is not low status, and it is not (in its scientific form) 
variable. English is not today’s lingua franca; it is our Latin . 3 

Tliis chapter has a double task. On the one hand, we will follow Latin 
from ancient Rome (Republic and Empire), exploring its detailed his- 
tory with the assistance of a learned army that has mapped the ins and 
outs of this storied tongue. (Among the panoply of scientific languages, 
none has been more thoroughly and well researched than Latin, and 
I gratefully acknowledge my debt to these scholars.) We will see that 
while Latin did function for a period as a universal language of scholar- 
ship and natural philosophy — the predecessor to what Anglophones 
have come to call, since the early nineteenth century, science — it served 
in this role for a relatively short span of its long history. The dominance 
of Latin started almost a thousand years after the fall of Rome, and fell 
into decline (but not extinction) three centuries later. “Scientific Latin” 
both started later and lived longer than you might expect. Our second 
story runs alongside this in counterpoint: how people have imagined, 
lauded, and berated Latin throughout this long history, and especially 
how they understood the eclipse of universality in scientific communi- 
cation. This chapter is about the birth of Scientific Babel: not just the 
origin of the profusion of tongues for research, but the emergence of 
the idea that multilingual scientific communication was a Babel, a curse 
afflicted upon the scholarly community. We begin to imagine scientific 
languages by imagining Latin. 

The Roman Language of Science 

In our modern Anglophone world, one cannot assume readers know 
Latin, even a smidgen redolent of the dust of forgotten schoolbooks 
and diligent turns copying declensions on the blackboard. So our story 
must begin with a somewhat abstract tour of Latin’s linguistic fea- 
tures, enough to understand both the charms its enthusiasts saw in it 
as well as the torment and frustration that afflicted two millennia of 
schoolchildren. Chances are, you come across a healthy dose of Latin in 
your casual readings and meanderings, and you know enough — even if 
you don’t “know Latin” — to identify ipso facto, cogito ergo sum, ecce 
homo, and carpe diem as Latin, and perhaps even what these phrases 
mean. It is a language you can imagine without study, for the Western 
tradition is saturated with it. 

2 6 


Latin is an Indo-European language, sharing a common ancestor 
with every other major language of science in the modern period with 
the exception of Japanese. It is a case language, which means that nouns 
and adjectives indicate their grammatical function in their form (by 
inflections, exhibited in the case of Latin through suffixes), enabling a 
much freer word order than we are accustomed to in English (although 
there are general regularities, such as a preference for the verb at the end 
of a sentence or clause). Sometimes, a noun is the subject of the sen- 
tence, the doer of action: The animal eats the apple. This is the nomina- 
tive case. Sometimes, it is the direct object of action: The boy eats the 
animal — the accusative. Other relations are possible, marked off in dif- 
ferent Latin cases: genitive (the animal’s apple), dative (the boy gives the 
apple to the animal), and ablative (a hodge-podge of possibilities: the 
boy walks with the animal-, the boy steps away from the animal-, the boy 
rides the animal to the store). Occasionally you even see a vocative ( Ani- 
mal , get over here!). That all seems relatively straightforward, requiring 
only that you memorize the pattern for five different cases which gov- 
ern the inflections. Except that there are five separate patterns (called 
declensions) across which the Latin vocabulary is strewn, with differ- 
ent inflections for the three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), and 
for the plurals of each of these. Adjectives agree with nouns in number, 
gender, and case, but have their own declensions. And then there is the 
verbal system: four (or five, depending how you count) different cate- 
gories of regular verbs, each with six basic tenses, completely different 
endings for the passive voice — English does the passive and many tenses 
with helping verbs — participles, gerunds, a rich subjunctive mood, and 
more. There are radically different grammatical forms for reporting the 
speech of others, depending on whether what you are reporting is a 
command, a question, or (worst of all) statements. It’s fiendishly com- 
plicated and entrancingly beautiful, all at once. 

It was also spoken, as a matter of course, by senators, slaves, four-year- 
old children, and village idiots for hundreds of years as the language of 
one city, and then across the sprawling Roman Empire — encompassing 
what is today France, parts of Britain (for a while), Spain and Portugal, 
North Africa, Egypt, much of the Middle East, Turkey, and the Bal- 
kans. What strikes the student as an immensely complicated structure 
was ordinary, everyday language, no more difficult to grasp than the 
native Anglophone’s easy choice of a, the, or nothing to preface nouns. 
(This is not a trivial matter, as you will easily find if you try to enumer- 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


ate rules for definite and indefinite articles. Those who do not speak 
languages with articles, such as Russian, will thank you. Latin is also 
article-free.) Appreciating Latin’s past ordinariness is essential for grasp- 
ing its position as a language of science in ancient Rome. 

Latin started as a local language of the region around the city of 
Rome on the Italian peninsula, one member of the Italic language 
family that cohered into a sophisticated and flexible tongue as various 
dialects from surrounding Latium congregated in the new metropolis . 4 
By the end of the first century AD, Latin had eradicated every other 
native language in Italy, except for Greek, spoken by the descendants of 
colonists from the Greek city states who populated towns in the south 
and on the nearby island of Sicily. As the Roman Republic conquered 
new territories and they were incorporated into an eventual Empire, the 
language spread. Native Celtic languages were extinguished in Iberia 
and Gaul, and eventually even the Punic and Berber languages of North 
Africa were displaced by Latin. “Latin,” of course, is imagined. As a lived 
language, ancient Latin exhibited extensive regional diversity, as you 
would expect over such a broad geographic area. African Latin was the 
most distinctive, but all forms had shades of vocabulary and even syn- 
tax, variability traceable today in the descendants of Latin’s fragmen- 
tation, the Romance languages (Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese, 
Provencal, Romanian, Sardinian, Spanish, and others ). 5 Most of the 
languages treated in this book cleave doggedly to a written standard, 
and that is because this is a history of scholars, who like such things. The 
standard most commonly hoisted for Latin is that of Marcus Tullius 
Cicero, about whom more in a moment . 6 

First, however, something about the spread of Latin bears a second 
look: Latin eradicated all the languages of Italy except Greek. Greek was 
special. Throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, Latin shared space 
with the language of the Greeks, which functioned as a vehicular lan- 
guage for centuries for everything but official Roman administration. 
And not just in the East, but in Rome itself. From the height of the Re- 
public until the collapse of the Empire, the Roman elite were bilingual, 
an indication of the immense admiration the upper classes possessed 
for the art and learning of the ancient Greek city-states and for the 
Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great, who in the fourth cen- 
tury BC spread Greek to Egypt in the South and the borders of Persia 
in the East. The Emperor Claudius spoke Greek in the Senate to Greek- 
speaking ambassadors, foreshadowing the philhellenism of Emperors 



Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, and the children of the 
elite learned Greek from slaves, private tutors, and grand tours to Hel- 
las. Greek was the only foreign language so esteemed.' 

Greek’s privileged status in the East of the Roman Empire repre- 
sented a particular stage in the history of the longest continuously at- 
tested language in the European sphere. It was never seriously threat- 
ened as a vehicular language, although we should keep in mind that 
most of the population of these regions spoke neither Greek nor Latin 
as a first language (Aramaic, Coptic, and Armenian come to mind, 
among many other languages, now lost) . 8 A particular variant of Greek, 
called Koine, was essential for administration and learning. 9 Ancient 
Greek had been a cluster of different dialects, such as the Ionian of 
Homer or the Attic of Sophocles’s Athens, but by the time of Plato and 
Aristotle Attic had emerged as dominant, and it later evolved into the 
transregional Koine. This was the language of the Eastern Roman Em- 
pire, formalized in 212 AD, and it evolved into the medieval Greek of 
Byzantium. Although Latin was far from absent in the East, it is no ex- 
aggeration to say that the impact of Greek on Latin was substantially 
greater than the reverse, and became more so after a worsening of rela- 
tions in the second century symbolized by the Roman sack of Corinth 
in 14 6. 10 Koine would become the language of early Christianity, but 
before then it had long served as the language of intellectual intercourse 
in the late Roman Republic and early Empire. 11 

That meant it was the language of science, too. Greek was the lan- 
guage of philosophical speculation (Aristotle), mathematics (Euclid 
and Archimedes), astronomy (Ptolemy), and medicine (the ubiqui- 
tous Galen, as well as the collection of authors conventionally blended 
together as “Hippocrates”). That these scholars wrote in Greek is un- 
deniable. It is equally irrefutable that many of these Hellenophone 
scholars were, in most meaningful senses of the term, Roman. Con- 
sider that the first names of both Ptolemy and Galen, second-century 
authors, was “Claudius,” the most Roman of monikers. While Latin 
speakers would constantly lament the superiority of Greek for natural 
science — as Lucretius does in the epigraph to this chapter — and com- 
posed most of their natural philosophy in Greek, it is simply incor- 
rect to declare, as some have, that “[i]t is a universally recognized fact 
that imperial Rome was utterly uninterested in pure scientific specu- 
lation.” 12 Lucretius shows us the origins of the error: Latin was often a 
language used to popularize Greek work, to take cutting-edge natural 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


philosophy and expose it to a broader, less elite (and therefore not bi- 
lingual) Roman audience. Declaring Latin not a language of science ex- 
cludes popularization from the realm of scientific activity, and (what is 
worse) denies that “engineering” — at which the Romans excelled — is 
not an important aspect of natural knowledge . 13 

It also ignores the obstacles to becoming a scientific language. By 
the time Romans began to speculate about the nature of matter or the 
motions of the cosmos, writers had been expounding on such topics for 
centuries in Greek. Scientific languages are not born, they are made, 
and made with a good deal of effort. We will later see how hard it was to 
make German or Russian capable of “holding” science, and it is there- 
fore noteworthy that even the iconic scientific language, Latin, faced this 
same hurdle in the face of Greek. Cicero, paragon of Latin eloquence 
and masterful reader of Greek learning, saw the conundrum clearly. “I 
thought to illustrate this [philosophical question about immortality] 
by writing in Latin, not because philosophy cannot be grasped by the 
Greek language and through Greek instructors,” he noted, “but my 
judgment has always been that our people have found all things more 
wisely than the Greeks, or have improved upon those things which they 
accepted from the Greeks, when they thought it worth the effort .”* 14 

Improvement is an act of labor. For example, Cicero confronted a 
Latin that did not have a word for the abstract notion of “muchness.” In 
analogy to Greek, he performed some grammatical manipulation to the 
ubiquitous question word “how much,” quantus, producing quantitas, 
the root word for our own “quantity.” Someone had to create the word 
“quantity.” It is not an obvious concept, certainly less so than “eye” or 
“tree,” and yet it is difficult to imagine science without it. This particular 
bit of linguistic alchemy takes place in Cicero’s Academics, a staged dia- 
logue that represents a conversation at Cicero’s country estate with his 
good friend Atticus and their neighbor Marcus Varro. The encounter 
begins with Cicero and Atticus inducing Varro to talk about his philo- 
sophical work, but to do so in Latin. Varro confesses that he had never 
thought of doing this before, invoking a simple Catch-22 that can be 
found across the history of scientific languages: 

*“hoc mihi Latinis litteris illustrandum putavi, non quia philosophia Graecis et lit- 
teris et doctoribus percipi non posset, sed meum semper iudicium fuit omnia nostros 
aut invenisse per se sapientius quam Graecos aut accepta ab illis fecisse meliora, quae 
quidem digna statuissent in quibus elaborarent.” 



For when I saw that philosophy was explicated most diligently in 
Greek, I reckoned that those of us who were gripped by its study, 
if they were learned in Greek doctrines, would rather read Greek 
than our language; if they shun the skills and disciplines of the 
Greeks, they would certainly not care for these topics, which can- 
not be understood without the erudition of the Greeks: thus I did 
not want to write what the unschooled could not understand and 
the learned would not bother to read.* 15 

Cicero conceded the justice of this claim, up to a point. “Although you 
put forward a probable case — either that those who are learned will in- 
deed prefer to read Greek, or that those who don’t know such matters 
will not read these — but grant me now: have you sufficiently proved 
your point?,” he countered. “On the contrary, it is true that who can- 
not read Greek will read these, and those who can won’t scorn their 
own language. What possible reason is there why those literate in Greek 
should read Latin poets but not read Latin philosophers?”* 16 Varro 
agrees to play along with this linguistic experiment. Atticus was even 
willing to spot Varro a mulligan or two: “[Y]ou will be allowed to use 
Greek words when you want, if Latin ones happen to desert you.”* Varro 
hoped he would not need them: “Truly you are kind; but I will make an 
effort to speak in Latin, except in these instances of certain words, such 
as naming ‘philosophy’ or ‘rhetoric’ or ‘physics’ or ‘dialectics,’ which 
along with many others are now customarily used in Latin.” § 17 

By the end of the Republican period (which died approximately 
when Cicero did), then, we see the formation of Latin as a language 

*“Nam cum philosophiam viderem diligentissime Graecis litteris explicatam, exis- 
timavi si qui de nostris eius studio tenerentur, si essent Graecis doctrinis eruditi, 
Graeca potius quam nostra lecturos; sin a Graecorum artibus et disciplinis abhor- 
rerent, ne haec quidem curaturos quae sine eruditione Graeca intelligi non possunt: 
itaque ea nolui scribere quae nec indocti intellegere possent nec docti legere cura- 

^“Causam autem probabilem tu quidem adfers, aut enim Graeca legere malent qui 
erunt eruditi, aut ne haec quidem qui ilia nesciunt; sed da mihi nunc — satisne pro- 
bas? Immo vero et haec qui ilia non poterunt et qui Graeca poterunt non contemnent 
sua. Quid enim causae est cur poetas Latinos Graecis litteris eruditi legant philoso- 
phos non legant?” 

*“quin etiam Graecis licebit utare cum voles, si te Latina forte deficient.” 

^“Bene sane facis; sed enitar ut Latine loquar, nisi in huiusce modi verbis, ut philoso- 
phiam aut rhetoricam aut physicam aut dialecticam appellem, quibus ut aliis multis 
consuetudo iam utitur pro Latinis.” 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


of science. This was accomplished through direct translation of for- 
eign concepts into a vernacular idiom — in this case, the vernacular was 
Latin. The operation was successful, insofar as Aulus Cornelius Celsus 
composed medical texts in Latin in the first century AD without (so 
far as we know from surviving texts) any of the explicit apologetics that 
Cicero used just over a century earlier. Galen, likewise, apparently read 
some Latin texts, even if his entire oeuvre was written in Greek . 18 But 
some scientific writings are hardly sufficient to generate an entire lan- 
guage of science. Latin was not widely used as a scientific language by 
any of the major schools of natural philosophy for at least half a millen- 
nium after the fall of Rome. There were other scientific languages that 
dwarfed Latin, for the Romans and for their successors. 

How Latin Got Its Groove 

A language of science needs two features: it must have the requisite 
flexibility to adapt to changing discoveries and theories; and scientists 
(or, before that English term was coined in 1833, natural philosophers) 
have to actually use it. In late antiquity and the early Middle Ages — up 
to, in fact, the twelfth century — neither of these held true for Latin. 

They had even ceased to hold for Greek. When the city of Constan- 
tinople (today’s Istanbul) was founded in 330 AD, Latinity in the East 
briefly revived in this center for administration and propagation of the 
language of the West. Yet after the Emperor Theodosius’s death in 395 
and the complete partition of the Empire, the limited Latin that had 
percolated into this region dried up completely . 19 The ensuing Byzan- 
tine Empire lasted for a millennium, governed through a medieval mu- 
tation of the dominant Koine of the Roman East — with healthy doses 
of bilingualism in Armenian, Arabic, Slavic languages, and others — but 
without developing a significant research tradition in the sciences . 20 So 
while the medieval East never had a significant language barrier to read- 
ing Koine texts, we nonetheless do not find much engagement with this 
material . 21 

In the Latin-speaking medieval West, on the other hand, the lan- 
guage barrier proved extremely important, as knowledge of Greek — 
traditionally dependent on some initial childhood exposure to native 
speakers — became as scarce in the West as Latin had become in the 
East . 22 (Contact with Greek was never fully sundered in Sicily, but 
this was a highly localized phenomenon. 23 ) The difficulty of acquiring 
Greek in Western Europe meant that the scholarship that was encour- 



aged by the likes of Charlemagne, who brought Alcuin of York to his 
court to overhaul education and revive the status of Latin as a clerical 
and liturgical language, was largely confined to a set of texts either origi- 
nally written in Latin or translated from the Greek in late antiquity. The 
canon is small, and bespeaks the limited interest in natural philosophy 
in the Latin West: Pliny’s Natural History, Aulus Gellius’s Attic Nights, 
Solinus’s Collection of Remarkable Facts, Macrobius’s Commentary 
on the Dream ofScipio (a Cicero text), Martianus Capella’s The Mar- 
riage of Mercury and Philology, the encyclopedic gleanings of Isidore 
of Seville, Chalcidius’s Latin commentary and partial translation of 
Plato’s Timaeus, and the translations of Aristotle’s and Porphyry’s logi- 
cal works and Euclid’s geometry by the venerated polymath Boethius . 24 
The rest of classical and contemporary learning was locked out of Latin, 
inaccessible to the few who cared about how nature operates. 

The hangup was with natural philosophy, not with Latin, which 
was the crucial language of medieval Europe by virtue of its role in the 
Catholic Church, the dominant institution across the entire region. 
Most literate individuals were connected to the Church and deployed 
their intellectual skills in its domains, which meant they knew (at least 
some) Latin to pray and work, but had little time or patience for the ab- 
struseness of natural knowledge. The importance of the Roman adop- 
tion of Christianity and the Latin West’s retention of the language of 
the Empire for the religion is of absolutely pivotal importance, and is 
such a dominating fact that I will take it for granted and say little more 
about it explicitly — though it perpetually hovers in the background. 

Latin was a strange beast in the Middle Ages, neither living nor dead. 
After the collapse of Rome, no one — with idiosyncratic exceptions in 
the Renaissance — learned Latin as their native language, the classic 
definition of a “dead” language, such as Hittite or Biblical Hebrew. On 
the other hand, children of the elite or those headed for a career in the 
Church studied Latin from a very early age, and it functioned as the 
spoken and especially written language of choice in most instances. 
Medieval Latin went through substantial variation, development, and 
enrichment as it adapted to a whole host of innovations, although many 
of these changes in the tongue came to be demonized by later purists 
who opted for a more Ciceronian Latin (more on that soon ). 25 

Eventually, Latin did become a widely used language of science, em- 
ployed by countless users who manipulated its strikingly varied vocabu- 
lary of philosophical terms. How did this happen? The same way that 
Cicero had envisioned: through translation. This time, however, the 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 3 3 

translation was not from Greek but from what has been called “the sec- 
ond classical language, even before Latin” : Arabic . 26 Arabic was, far and 
away, the leading scientific language of the medieval period, serving for 
longer than any other language in the West for the codification, elabo- 
ration, and expansion of natural philosophy. Beginning in the eighth 
century, the Abbasid dynasty, based in its new capital of Baghdad, en- 
dorsed and patronized a gigantic translation enterprise, rendering most 
of the philosophical and scientific texts of Greek learning into Arabic 
(often through the bridge of Syriac, another Semitic language), in the 
process transforming the target language into a supple resource for con- 
tinued development of these sciences. Two centuries of expensive trans- 
lation do not happen unless the translators want to use the knowledge 
for something — say, for astronomical research — and the storied com- 
mentaries and revisions of Greek science constituted the high-water 
mark for natural philosophy for centuries. Abetted by the contempo- 
rary arrival of Chinese paper making in Baghdad, which made the pro- 
duction of texts much cheaper, the Islamic Empire that spanned from 
Persia to Spain transformed natural philosophy from a Hellenophone 
to an Arabophone enterprise . 27 Greek ceased to be a major language of 
science not because it ceased to be a language, but because people had 
stopped doing science in it; Latin became a scientific language through 
its encounter with Arabic. 

That encounter is now often called “the Renaissance of the twelfth 
century,” a full two centuries before the storied Italian Renaissance. 
Latin scholarship had already begun a slow process of reemergence with 
the revival of monasteries such as Montecassino, whose libraries offered 
to itinerant researchers access to musty tomes of older learning . 28 Of 
course, the common language of Latin (despite strikingly varied pro- 
nunciation) enabled this scholarly mobility, meaning that once a text 
was rendered into Latin it became accessible across a broad region where 
the language fulfilled ecclesiastical and administrative functions . 29 This 
early sparking exploded into the fervor of scholarship after a few curious 
researchers began searching for reports that ancient Greek wisdom — 
especially Ptolemy’s astronomical masterpiece, the Almagest — might 
be read if only one could find the Arabic books . 30 (The common title 
of Ptolemy’s work, composed in Greek, bears traces of its active life in 

The translation movement from Arabic into Latin also followed the 
migration of paper-making technology, which arrived at Europe in the 
tenth and eleventh centuries from the Arab world. There were numer- 



ous sites where the intellectual encounter via translation transpired; suf- 
fice it to point here to the Spanish city of Toledo, conquered from the 
Moors in 1085 by Alfonso VI, king of Castile and Leon. Latinate schol- 
ars looking for scientific texts, such as the Herculean translator Gerard 
of Cremona, converged on the city and set up collaborative translation 
partnerships with bilinguals in Arabic and Mozarabic (the Spanish ver- 
nacular), typically Jews, until they had mastered the language for them- 
selves. 31 Latin renditions — at times of iffy quality — of ancient wisdom 
(multiple versions of Euclid, tomes on alchemy, Aristotle’s surviving 
corpus) poured out of Spain, accompanied by the cutting-edge com- 
mentaries of the Arabic philosophers. 32 Other translators worked in 
Sicily, producing Latin versions of these canonical works directly from 
the Greek, but these circulated far less widely. “The Latin world could 
have got its Aristotle and its Galen, its Ptolemy and Euclid, largely 
through these Graeco-Latin versions,” noted renowned medievalist 
Charles Homer Haskins. “It could have got much Greek science in this 
way, but for the most part it did not. The current language of science was 
by this time Arabic.” 33 

Now that ancient Greek and medieval Arabic natural philosophy was 
available in Latin, the metamorphosis this translation effort wrought 
on the language quickly elevated Latin to the universal language of sci- 
ence for Western Europe. Yet scientific Latin in the twelfth century and 
until the eighteenth was a complicated and varied organism. Today, we 
call it “Scholastic Latin,” after the “schools” (i.e., universities) where it 
was studied. At the time, it was understood as a specialized subset of 
Latin for technical discussions of the kind natural philosophers were 
wont to have. Real linguistic adjustments to Latin had to be made in the 
process of translation, because transferring the highly inflected techni- 
cal lexicon of Arabic and Greek generated challenges beyond vocabu- 
lary. for example, classical Latin has no present or past participle for the 
verb “to be” {sum/ esse), which makes rendering medieval metaphysics 
rather dicey. The absence of definite articles — present in both Greek 
and Arabic — was another obstacle, circumvented by thirteenth-century 
translator Willem van Moerbeke by simply inserting the french “le.” 34 

With the emergence of humanism in the fourteenth century, driven 
by a reverence for Ciceronian Latin, precisely such tinkering was de- 
cried as “barbarism.” If there ever were a moment when Latin was placed 
on a pedestal and ascribed exalted status as the universal language of 
scholarship — because it was perceived as uniquely suited linguistically 
for the purpose — it was the Renaissance, beginning from Italy and radi- 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


ating outwards in multiple and varied incarnations. On the surface, 
much looks the same. Latin was still a language of bilinguals, with cer- 
tain (mostly male) children taught the language so they could engage a 
continent-wide community of elite scholars and ecclesiastics . 35 But the 
differences were sensible at all levels. Many of the countries of West- 
ern Europe had begun to use their local vernaculars for administrative 
purposes. Latin as a language of statecraft persisted in international di- 
plomacy and in the governance of polyglot regions in the East, such 
as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the sprawling Habsburg 
lands . 36 Vernacular had seeped into many of the old functions of Latin, 
but not in the disciplines surrounding the sciences. 

That difference is essential, because it came to define Latin as the 
European scientific language. That is, Latin’s status as a language of sci- 
ence rested on the contrast it made with the use of the vernacular in 
other contexts. The bilingualism of scholars underscored scholarship as 
a distinctive activity. 3 ' The very artificiality of using a classical language 
added to this logic, feeding back into a purist quest for the most pris- 
tine Latin style. The rules for indirect speech were reintroduced, elimi- 
nating the dixit quod and dixit quoniam which had substituted for it in 
Medieval Latin, and Cicero’s intricate periodic sentence returned in full 
force . 38 The more specialized scholarship became, the more unvernacu- 
lar Latin had to be, enabling certain scholars like the Dutchman Eras- 
mus to have a continental reputation while, according to one biogra- 
pher, producing an “estrangement” that prevented him from ever being 
“thoroughly at home” among his countrymen . 39 Whether or not that 
sense of alienation obtained, the quest for Latinity manifestly helped 
give life to what was becoming a European community of learning. 
Humanists undertook a search for more perfect editions of the Greek 
and sharper translations into Latin, in the process changing the classi- 
cal tradition and extending their research into the natural world around 
them . 40 Latin had arrived as a language of science. 

Universal But Not Global 

Latin was not, as we have seen, a dominant language of science until 
the high Middle Ages and the Renaissance, having been subordinate 
in the continental and Mediterranean regions to Greek and Arabic for 
over a millennium. Even when it became the obvious vehicular language 
among scholars, its reach was relatively limited. Leave aside the New 
World, which was only just at this moment being colonized by Western 



European powers; Latin had no purchase among the indigenous who 
lived there or the adventurers who arrived (although natural historical 
findings would eventually come back to Europe in Latin guise). Even 
in the Eastern half of Europe, scholarship often still bore Greek dress. 
Head farther East, as Europeans did in greater numbers during the Re- 
naissance, and two other languages of scholarship and science hove into 
view. Each commanded a much stricter monopoly over knowledge than 
Latin had (or did) in Europe and lasted for longer over a wider area. 
Our imagination of what it means to be a scientific language is strongly 
shaped by the historical experience of Latin, but the image of that lan- 
guage, at the moment of its eclipse, was in turn conditioned by contem- 
porary understandings of two vehicular scholarly languages from other 
parts of the world. 

Heading toward the sunrise, we meet Sanskrit. The encounter with 
this ancient tongue and the recognition of its kinship with Latin and 
Greek would in the late eighteenth century generate the category of 
“Indo-European” and spark modern historical linguistics, but in the 
seventeenth century it played essentially no role in the European de- 
bates about languages of science. That said, a cursory examination of 
Sanskrit’s reach and role is instructive about the parochial character of 
universal Latin. After the dawn of the first millennium, Sanskrit ceased 
to be — as its name states — “holy writing,” reserved for ritual purposes 
in the custody of a specific group, and broadened out, becoming a ve- 
hicular language of scholarship, correspondence, and literature across 
a staggeringly broad region: from Afghanistan to Southeast Asia, from 
Sri Lanka in the South to the steppes of Central Asia in the North. 
Viewed through the distorting lenses of Latin’s history, Sanskrit repre- 
sents a series of absences: the absence of military conquest, the absence 
of a scriptural religion, the absence of a recovery narrative of a lost clas- 
sical tongue. This is, of course, the wrong way to look at it. From the 
perspective of the Sanskrit-linked world, it was simply the mode of ve- 
hicular communication in use, accompanied by an astonishingly rich 
body of learning. And it lasted until the end of the eighteenth century, 
when European languages — both the consequence and the medium of 
British, Portuguese, and French colonization — began to erode its schol- 
arly functions . 41 

This is an important story, not least because it demonstrates the 
durability of vehicular languages and writing systems. We should pause 
for a moment longer on the role of Sanskrit as a language of science, 
principally in mathematics and astronomy. The range of Sanskrit’s 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


penetration (both horizontally across space and vertically within social 
groups) enabled a particular efflorescence in the sciences. 42 In addition, 
Sanskrit was also the first language — as far as I can find in the scholarly 
literature — to be specifically examined for the linguistic consequences 
generated by being a language of science. In 1903, the distinguished 
German scholar Hermann Jacobi published a ground-breaking article 
on “Tire Nominal Style of Scientific Sanskrit,” revealing the tendency of 
the language to shift toward ever more complex noun forms to encom- 
pass the kinds of abstractions demanded by scientific and mathematical 
thinking. 43 Jacobi’s insights later reverberated through other linguists’ 
efforts in the early twentieth century to make sense of what was hap- 
pening to their own languages. Hence Otto Jespersen, a figure we will 
encounter more than once, in 1924: “German scientific prose some- 
times approaches the Sanskrit style described by Jacobi. When we ex- 
press by means of nouns what is generally expressed by finite verbs, our 
language becomes not only more abstract, but more abstruse[. . .].” 44 
Although the history of Sanskrit happened largely detached from that 
of the European languages, it has structured our understanding of what 
it means to be a scientific language, and how those dialects are trans- 
formed through the act of exploring nature. 

Sanskrit’s spread across the Eurasian landmass was stopped by its en- 
counter with another venerable language of scholarship that cloaked 
the Eastern Pacific Rim, from the islands of Japan and the peninsula of 
Korea down to Vietnam: Classical Chinese. This book is not the place 
to summarize the vibrant scholarship about Chinese science across two 
millennia; my goal is much more narrow: to show how a certain kind 
of imagined Chinese forced Europeans to rethink the purposes and 
potential of scientific communication. 45 Classical Chinese was no less 
imagined for those who used it in East Asia than for the Europeans who 
encountered it at the close of the Renaissance. Tire reality is difficult to 
pin down, precisely because we have thousands of years of writing, but 
no full sense of how Classical Chinese was used orally. (This is also a 
problem for medieval Europe, where vernacular utterances are hidden 
in Latin transcriptions.) 

Chinese both was and wasn’t the “Latin” of East Asia. Chinese 
script, as is well known, extended across the entire region. It is not, 
despite popular misconceptions, an essentially “ideographic” system, 
with characters depicting images or concepts, but rather contains sig- 
nificant phonological cues. That said, the degree of abstraction allows 
for people speaking very different kinds of Chinese — in Shanghai, Bei- 



jing, and Hong Kong — to use the same script. The immense prestige 
and power of Chinese philosophy, Buddhism (itself translated from 
South Asia), medicine, and natural science promoted the study of the 
language in Korea and Japan, and scholars there read it with avidity and 
sometimes composed texts in it. As a rule, however, those texts did not 
circulate back to China or even among these various peripheries, and 
Chinese was almost never learned as a spoken language by Koreans, 
Japanese, and Vietnamese. Communication between foreigners, even in 
person, sometimes relied on writing out Chinese characters. The script 
was so ubiquitous among the literate that it was eventually adapted 
to local vernaculars, even though the fit was poor with, say, Japanese, 
and demanded significant adjustments. Some of this resembles Latin 
quite closely: most international communication in it was written, 
and pronunciation (especially between the English and the continent) 
was widely divergent. The major contrast is also highly significant: the 
Chinese language belonged to the Chinese, the residents of this im- 
mensely powerful Empire around whose periphery the other Asians 
lived. Vernacular works in Japanese or Vietnamese were never translated 
into Chinese for circulation abroad, and every use of the language was 
marked, not neutral . 46 

The European literati who returned from visits to China saw the uni- 
versality of the script but missed out on its freighted quality. In fact, 
they took their impression of Chinese writing as ideographic — based, 
as it happens, on a mix of misunderstanding, guesswork, and absorp- 
tion of mistaken popular conceptions published by the Chinese — and 
used it to generate a conception of a truly universal scientific language . 47 
After a good two centuries of esteem and adoration, the humanistic 
bloom was off the Latin rose, and influential natural philosophers in 
several different lands began to think of a replacement, unencumbered 
by historical oddities and adapted to the innovations of the transfor- 
mation of science underway in the seventeenth century. In order to get 
such a “philosophical language” that was utterly natural, they decided 
to invent it. 

The idea of creating a language for an express purpose dates back 
at least to the twelfth-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen, who cre- 
ated what she called lingua ignota for her own use, but applications of 
the notion to natural philosophy emerged only in the seventeenth cen- 
tury. The canonical first mention of such an idealized philosophical lan- 
guage is usually located in a letter from philosopher and mathematician 
Rene Descartes to frenetic correspondent Marin Mersenne, dated 20 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


November 1629. In that same letter, however, Descartes lamented about 
the possibility that such a language would ever come about. “But do 
not hope to ever see it in use,” he wrote; “that presupposes such great 
changes in the order of things, and it would require that the entire world 
become a terrestrial paradise, that it is only worth proposing in the land 
of novels.”* 48 Hope did not wither on the vine; on the contrary, it flour- 
ished across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, producing at 
least a dozen serious projects, before temporarily disappearing in the 
early nineteenth century. 49 

The idea that extant human languages were somehow inferior to 
a potential philosophical language stemmed from three sources. The 
first was a lingering dissatisfaction with Latin, in itself a consequence of 
the ambition and vigor of the vernacular languages (especially French), 
which led philosophers to question the adequacy of their current imple- 
ment. 50 A logical consequence of expanding the vernacular languages 
was the creation of a Scientific Babel, a confusion of tongues whereby 
the Dutch would be unable to communicate as easily with the Italians 
as they had in Erasmus’s day. The second source provided an answer for 
that: the apprehension of Chinese script as a universal writing system in 
which you could read what a Pole wrote down and interpret it as Ger- 
man, in the manner they imagined the Japanese simply read Chinese as 
Japanese. 51 (This was not in fact so. The Japanese developed an elaborate 
system of annotations to Chinese script to enable legibility.) Tire third 
factor bolstered the plausibility of constructing such a language: the 
seventeenth-century innovations in mathematical formalism and to a 
lesser extent in musical notation provided an analogy to universal writ- 
ing that inspired German polymath Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. 52 

The most prominent of these experiments in philosophical languages 
was that of John Wilkins, Oliver Cromwell’s brother-in-law and — after 
the Restoration of the monarchy following the English Revolution — a 
founder of the Royal Society of London, one of the world’s first scien- 
tific societies. Wilkins had long been interested in generalizing knowl- 
edge, both in the sense of making what was known accessible to more 
people, and of encompassing more of the world into what was known, 
an ambition already visible in his 1641 book on codes and ciphers, Mer- 
cury, or the Secret and Swift Messenger.^ His project for a full-fledged 

*“Mais n’esperez pas de la voir jamais en usage; cela presupose de grans changemens 
en l’ordre des choses, et il faudroit que tout le monde ne fust qu’un paradis terrestre, 
ce qui n’est bon a proposer que dans le pays des romans.” 



philosophical language,^ Essay towards a Real Character and a Philo- 
sophical Language (1668), had to wait for over two decades, delayed not 
least by the incineration of the first manuscript in the Fire of London 
of 1666. Wilkins’s idea was simple: things in the world have relations 
among each other, and so should the words that pick them out. A spar- 
row, an eagle, and a penguin are all birds, but nothing in their English 
names would lead you to suspect that, or even to tell you they were ani- 
mals and thus more closely related to pigs than to daffodils. Wilkins 
assigned letters to concepts, building up a quasi-mathematical repre- 
sentation that would encode the map of the universe. You can see the 
difficulty right away: do we class peanuts with peas or nuts ? On the one 
hand, they are legumes, on the other, they are, well, nutty. If we do not 
understand the universal map of nature — or, worse, if there simply is no 
single map — then the project cannot work, however noble its inspira- 
tion. Wilkins’s grand scheme has received detailed treatment by schol- 
ars, and I recommend those who are interested to peruse those works, 
or just to read the original, which is in English. 54 

That’s an interesting fact: Wilkins’s manifesto to repair world knowl- 
edge by embedding it in an analytical linguistic frame was composed 
in a vernacular that was generally understood only in one North Sea 
archipelago. In one sense, that is not surprising: although Wilkins knew 
Latin, he composed most of his works in English, given his desire to 
reach a broader audience. But Erasmus also wanted to reach a broader 
audience — one that spanned across Europe — and that is why he wrote 
in Latin instead of Dutch. Something had changed about the under- 
standing of audiences between Erasmus and Wilkins. Wilkins thought 
about this issue intensely. Early in the volume, before he introduces his 
philosophical language, he narrates a history of the vehicular languages 
of the world (including Chinese). Wilkins thought ofhis philosophical 
language not only through mathematics, but also through actual human 
languages. As a case in point, he considered Malay, “which seems to 
be the newest Language in the World,” as an argument that it is pos- 
sible to build a language: “for the more facil converse with one another, 
they” — the Portuguese, the Dutch, and many fishermen of Southeast 
Asia — “agreed upon a distinct Language , which probably was made 
up by selecting the most soft and easy words belonging to each sev- 
eral Nation.” This was an inspiration for Wilkins. “And this is the only 
Language (for ought I know) that hath ever been at once invented-, if it 
may properly be styled a distinct Language, and not rather a Medley of 
many. But this being invented by rude Fishermen, it cannot be expected 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


that it should have all those advantages, with which it might have been 
furnished by the rules of Philosophy.” 55 A language could be built — 
naturally. The border between invented and natural is blurry. 

We have, then, a book in English that uses Malay and Chinese to 
introduce an abstract creation. It was bound to restrict readers, pre- 
cisely because Wilkins did not publish it in Latin, or even French, fast 
becoming the leading vehicular language of Western Europe (efforts 
to have the work translated into both fizzled). 56 We see in Wilkins a 
change in audience, one which characterizes the slipping hold of Latin 
on European science and the gradual drift toward the vernaculars. It was 
not that scientists ceased to wish to communicate and all shifted to ex- 
pressing their identity; it was rather that their intended recipients had 
changed to readers and patrons closer to home, ones who might not be 
classically schooled in the humanists’ Latin. You gain some audiences 
by switching to the vernacular instead of Latin, but you lose some, too. 

How to Speak to Torbern Bergman 

Find your nearest scientist and ask them how they feel about English 
being the universal language of learning, and odds are you will hear that 
it is fantastic that all science today is communicated in one language. 
Tliis response immediately raises one of the most important questions 
in the history of scientific languages: “If an international language is 
desirable in science, why was Latin abandoned after it had been used for 
several centuries?” 57 Why indeed? A few answers spring to mind. First, 
it was difficult to adapt Latin, especially in the classicizing form beloved 
of Renaissance humanists, to the rapid changes in knowledge character- 
istic of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 58 Tliis can hardly be 
the whole story, for the way English deals with the same changeability 
and innovation in science today is to constantly coin new terms, largely 
by raiding . . . Latin. Another impulse, more directly significant to those 
living at the time, was Wilkins’s: seek out the patrons closest to you, the 
people you want to convince who speak your own native language. Tliis 
was Galileo’s motivation when he shifted to Italian from Latin, and also 
Isaac Newton’s, who turned to English for his 1704 Opticks but not for 
his 1687 Principia . 59 (Paracelsus, maverick of sixteenth-century chem- 
istry, was ahead of the curve here as well, publishing mostly in Ger- 
man and relying on translators to spread his message. 60 ) A host of other 
reasons charge in: the decline of power in the Catholic Church after 
the Protestant Reformation (although many Protestants were excellent 



Latinists, and Protestant German scholars stayed Latinate far longer 
than their counterparts in Catholic France); a sense of self-conscious 
modernity; absence of classical learning, especially among the expand- 
ing circle of female readers . 61 There is some truth to each of these. 

The effect is clearer than the causes. Across Western Europe, vernacu- 
lars came to be used, at different times and in different places, as com- 
petitors to or substitutes for Latin in all of its varied domains, not least 
natural science. As two scholars of the “Neo-Latin” of the postmedi- 
eval era put it, somewhat hyperbolically: “The main victim of the Sci- 
entific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries is without doubt the 
Latin language and its (quasi-)monopoly as the language for academic 
scientific teaching and publications.” 62 Those who lamented the incipi- 
ent Scientific Babel provided both the supply and the demand for the 
booming book trade of translations from vernaculars into Latin across 
the early modern period. 63 Latin also became a way of expressing iden- 
tity, at least for the Germans, whose only other option would have been 
to communicate in French. 64 Decidedly not neutral. Medical texts had 
begun to appear in French in the sixteenth century (mostly between 
1530 and 1597), but then vanished under the surface of Latin, only to 
reemerge to dominance around 1685. 65 The transition to the vernacular 
was so commonplace that by 1698 Jean-Baptiste Du Hamel, in his his- 
tory of the French Academie des Sciences, had to defend his choice to 
publish in Latin: 

Neither do I think it deplorable that I began to write these things in 
Latin, not French: Of course it is demanded of me, so that it will be 
read not only by learned Frenchmen, but even by foreigners who do 
not know French. No matter how much indeed the Latin language 
is right now temporarily eroded and held by many in contempt, 
however we are allowed to usurp what Cicero once said of Greek 
concerning Latin: Latin is read among almost all peoples, French is 
constrained by its borders, which are certainly narrow. Notwithstand- 
ing that indeed these things are not entirely true, it nevertheless 
must be granted that the French language is not spread so broadly as 
Latin, which is the same among peoples everywhere, nor is it subject 
to so many changes as the vulgar languages. But enough of this.* 66 

*“Neque id reprehendendum puto quod Latine, non Gallice lia-c scribere sim ingres- 
sus: Id quippe postulatum a me est, ut non ab eruditis modo Gallis, sed etiam ab ex- 
teris, qui Gallice non sciunt, legerentur. Quantumvis enim Latina lingua nunc tem- 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


His colleagues were displeased. By the second edition in 1701 this pas- 
sage was gone. Latin would soon join it. 

Living through the transition to Scientific Babel was complicated, 
and each naturalist experienced it differently. To give a sense of one par- 
ticular path through the linguistic morass, I will follow the correspon- 
dence of Torbern Bergman. I know, not exactly a household name, but 
he once was, at least in certain circles. Bergman was one of the most im- 
portant chemists of the eighteenth century, a contemporary of Lavoisier 
and Priestley who has been all but dropped from the history of chem- 
istry. I choose him because this neglect is, at least in part, closely re- 
lated to the fact that he was Swedish rather than French or English, 
or even German, and thus removed from the three scientific languages 
that would, by the mid-nineteenth century, consolidate in a triumvi- 
rate of chemical communication. Bergman was born in Catherineberg 
in West Gothland, Sweden, on 20 March 1735, the son of a tax collec- 
tor. 67 He was sent to the University of Uppsala, where his father hoped 
that he would study theology or law, but young Bergman fell under the 
sway of natural philosophy, working at it so intensely that his health 
failed and he had to return home. His recuperation meant even more 
science — this time botanizing outdoors — and his father relented, re- 
turning him to the university with permission to supplement his legal 
studies with mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany, and entomology. 
His findings in the last drew the attention of Carl Linnaeus (of botani- 
cal nomenclature fame, and the leading light of contemporary Swedish 
science), who encouraged him to deepen his explorations. In 1758 Berg- 
man earned a masters degree in pure mathematics and was appointed a 
magister docens — an assistantship peculiar to Uppsala — in natural phi- 
losophy. In a few years, he was appointed an adjunct in mathematics and 
physics, and in 1766 published, in Swedish, his first work to gain inter- 
national attention, a comprehensive physical geography entitled Physisk 
beskrifningofverjord klotet (Physical Description of the Earth). Neither 
the topic nor the language were that unusual, since Sweden in the eigh- 
teenth century was heir to a vibrant tradition of mining engineering, 

poris deteratur, & a multis contemptui habeatur, id tamen quod olim de Grasca dixit 
Tullius, de Latina nobis usurpare licet: Latina leguntur in omnibus fere gentibus, Gal- 
lica suis finibus, exiguis sane continentur. Tametsi enim hasc non sunt ex omni parte 
vera, id tamen fatendum est linguam Gallicam non esse tam late fusam, quam Lati- 
nam, quas ubique gentium eadem est, neque tot mutationibus obnoxia, quot linguae 
vulgares. Sed de his satis.” 



typically conducted in Swedish in contrast to the more academic, and 
Latinate, chemistry of the universities . 68 Those who read it lauded Berg- 
man’s gifts, although most of them resorted to the German translation 
(it was also translated into Danish and, later, Russian ). 69 The following 
year Bergman was appointed professor of chemistry and pharmacy at 
Uppsala as the successor of J. G. Wallerius, supposedly upon the inter- 
vention of the Crown Prince, the future Gustavus III. 

It was as a chemist, not as a physical geographer, that Bergman solidi- 
fied his European reputation as a thinker with a synoptic view of the 
entire science and a penchant for classifying and organizing its findings 
in a manner analogous to what his mentor Linnaeus did for flora. Carl 
von Linne, better known as Linnaeus, is probably the first name you 
think of when it comes to “Latin in the sciences,” given his comprehen- 
sive program to categorize all plants with a binomial nomenclature that 
is still the most prominent use of Latin in today’s science. Linnaeus’s 
story would take us far afield, but it is worth noting that his choice 
of Latin was itself a feature of the looming Babel that he sensed (and, 
in his extensive Lutheran musings, contemplated through its rendition 
in the book of Genesis). Linnaeus wrote extensively in Swedish and in 
Latin, but was unable to read Lrench despite the avowed Lrancomania 
of the Swedish elite; his own selection of the language of Rome was in 
no small part a declaration of relevance for the provincial kingdom in 
which he felt such enormous pride. ' 0 Bergman would follow Linnaeus’s 
example in this as well. 

Bergman’s academic status was enabled by two factors: maintain- 
ing an avid correspondence, and publishing in Latin. Correspondence 
was central to the conduct of chemistry in this century when — with 
the exception of Paris and possibly Edinburgh — there were simply not 
enough chemists in one place to sustain a vibrant, self-contained com- 
munity. The exceptionally well-informed Bergman never left Sweden; 
almost all of his information thus came from personal reports or the 
publications he received by the surprisingly good postal system of the 
eighteenth century. We know, sadly, much less about Bergman’s half of 
these exchanges, but the letters to him have been collected in an invalu- 
able published edition, and it offers one of the single best resources to 
understanding the Europe-wide conversation about the woes of phlo- 
giston and gas chemistry discussed in the introduction to this book. 

The very appearance of the letters is a revelation. There are, as one 
would expect, incoming letters in Swedish and also Danish (closely re- 
lated to Bergman’s native tongue), as well as french. So far, so hum- 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


drum. But Bergman also received, and obviously understood well 
enough, letters in English, German, and Latin. Several correspondents 
used different languages in sequential letters. Scientific Babel arrived 
at Bergman’s doorstep routinely, and the letters convey a consciousness 
of language barriers. Johann Gottlob Georgi, a German chemist who 
later ended up teaching in St. Petersburg and an occasional translator 
from Swedish to German, wrote Bergman in 1768: “I apologize that 
I write to you not in your language but rather in mine. As dear to me 
as the former is, I do however write so poorly in it, [and] it was neces- 
sary that I express myself clearly about everything and Your Lordship 
reads the works of my country without offense.”* 71 On the other hand, 
Richard Kirwan, the defender of phlogiston we have already met, never 
had the option of writing in Swedish and at first used Latin, but soon 
“was delighted to see by your letter to Mr. Magellan” — the same intel- 
ligencer who had communicated Priestley’s work to Lavoisier — “that I 
received yesterday that you command the Lrench language so well that 
I can write to you in this language, which is much more familiar to 
me than Latin.” f 72 Occasionally, as with Anglophone German Lranz 
Xaver Schwediauer, Bergman was even given his choice of languages: 
“If you shall be so obliging as to favour me with an answer, it may be 
written either in latin, french, english or German, as is most agreeable 
to you, and let me know which of these languages you would chuse that 
I should write to you in answer.” 73 

Some of his correspondents even took measures to learn Swedish 
so they could follow the work of Bergman and his compatriots. Thus 
L austo de Elhuyar, a Spanish mineralogist who with his brother Juan 
Jose de Elhuyar first isolated the element tungsten, writing to Berg- 
man in eerily accentless Lrench: “I would like to study the Swedish lan- 
guage a bit so that I can read the Memoires of the Stockholm Academy 
and several other excellent works which you have in your country.”* 74 

*“Ich entschuldige, dass ich nicht in Ihrer sondern in meiner Sprache geschrieben. So 
lieb mir auch die erste ist, so schreibe ich doch zu schlecht in derselben, es war notig, 
dass ich mich iiber alles bestimt ausdrukte und Ewr Hochedelgeb. lesen die Werke 
meine Nation ohne Anstoss.” 

^ “Je suis charme de voir par votre lettre a Mons r Magellan que j’ai re^ue hier que vous 
possedez la langue fran^oise si bien que je puis vous addresser dans cette langue qui 
m’est bien plus familiere que la Latine.” 

*“Je voudrois faire quelque etude de la langue Suedoise pour pouvoir lire les Memoires 
de l’Academie de Stockholme et plusieurs autres excellens Ouvrages que vous avez 
dans votre pais.” 

4 6 


(He had read the physical geography in its German translation.) Berg- 
man’s most famous correspondents, Lavoisier’s colleagues Pierre Mac- 
quer and Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau, popularized Bergman’s 
work abroad, the first by translating him from Latin and the latter by 
actually learning Swedish. To do so, he followed de Elhuyar in asking 
Bergman to send Swedish grammars, dictionaries, and even novels. 
Guyton de Morveau induced his collaborators, including his mistress 
Madame de Picardet (who had helped Madame Lavoisier with her En- 
glish), to assist in translating Bergman. (They did not get credit for it.) 75 
Even Schwediauer expressed some interest in learning the language, 
but really wished he didn’t have to: “I regret that you wish to unearth 
paleontology using the Swedish language, for very few chemists know 
Swedish, yet who nevertheless really ought to learn these new truths 
and promulgate them[. . 76 The obvious solution for these cases 

was to rely on vernacular translations, although sometimes the offer to 
vernacularize itself came in Latin: “It is fitting that this work be trans- 
lated into several languages, so that the reputation of so illustrious and 
learned a man spreads to many peoples [. . .]. 77 

Latin was utterly inescapable in Bergman’s world — and this was, re- 
call, in the 1770s, long after Latin had ostensibly died off in the sciences. 
Sweden was somewhat of a special case, for Latin was obligatory at Upp- 
sala as late as the 1840s, both as a continuation of a distinguished tra- 
dition of Latin learning in Northern Europe, and a recognition of the 
fact that some vehicular language was necessary to communicate with 
European peers. 78 (Local flora in Central Europe were often bilingual — 
Latin and German — and even trilingual, including Czech, blending an 
international scholarly conversation about taxonomy with a local dis- 
cussion about the locations and uses of certain plants. 79 ) Latin was used 
as a necessary language of correspondence across borders, even by such 
vernacular luminaries as Voltaire, and individuals continued to stock 
their libraries with it. As a rough rule, libraries in the Enlightenment 
collected one-third in French, one-third in Latin, and the rest in the 
vernacular of that particular land — eighteenth-century Europe had two 
universal languages. 80 Only through an overemphasis on the moderniz- 

*“Doleo quod oryctologiam lingua Suecica exarare velis, paucissimi Chemici Lin- 
guae Suecicas gnari sunt, quorum tamen maxime interest veritates novas cognoscere, 
et promulgaref. . 

^“Dignum hoc opus, quod in plures Lingvas traduceretur, ut fama tam illustris, 
doctique Viri ad plures gentes perveniret[. . 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


ing narratives of Lavoisier and Priestley can one say, with one historian 
of Latin: “Chemistry, then, came onto the scene so late that Latin was 
never really relevant.” 81 (This author, as it happens, is a Swede.) 

Bergman’s grandest project was as Latinate as his mentor Linnaeus’s, 
and for good reason: starting in the mid-i770s but culminating with his 
Sciagraphia Regni Mineralis (1782), Bergman sought to develop and ex- 
tend a classification of minerals in terms of classes, genera, species, and 
varieties that was explicitly modeled on plants. Classes, for example, 
contained “salts,” “earths,” and “metals,” and genera of salts included 
acidic and alkali salts. And so on systematically down the chain, so that 
every chemical substance would have a unique name that would express 
its relationships with others. 82 Although this system quickly fell by the 
wayside — eclipsed by Guyton de Morveau’s modern nomenclature 
based on Lavoisier’s chemistry and later the systematic ordering of sub- 
stances in the periodic table (as described in the following chapter) — it 
is impossible not to admire the scale and subtlety of Bergman’s think- 
ing. It seems equally impossible to imagine such a binomial nomencla- 
ture in anything but Latin, as Bergman himself put it in one of his final 

In establishing entirely new names, I desire that their origins be 
Latin. This language is, or at least was, the vernacular of the learned: 
now it is dead and is not subject to constant changes. Therefore, 
if the reform is conducted in this language first, and afterward in 
living languages on the same model (as much as the spirit of each 
will allow), this same reform will be conducted more easily. For this 
very reason chemical language can attain general agreement in all 
places, which promises no small benefit not only in reading foreign 
works, but also in translating.* 83 

Always already Latin, it seems. But here is the intriguing part: Berg- 
man had attempted this in Swedish first. From 1775 to 1784, while con- 

*“In stabiliendis nimirum nimirum [sic] novis nominibus, ut a Latinis initium fieret, 
opto. Est haec lingua, vel saltim fuit, eruditorum vernacula: jam mortua quoque nul- 
lis quotidianis est obnoxia mutationibus. Si igitur in hac primum reformatio pera- 
gitur, in vivis postea ad eumdem modulum, quantum genius cujuslibet permiserit, 
eadem facilius perficietur. Hoc ipso lingua Chemica ubique locorum generalem ad- 
quirere potest convenientiam, quod non tantum in legendis exterorum operibus, sed 
etiam in transferendis, haud exiguam pollicetur utilitatem.” 



structing his system, he repeatedly tried Swedish names for these sub- 
stances, and his manuscripts are littered with abandoned efforts. In 
the end, he found it substantially easier to generate the requisite adjec- 
tives from nouns using Latin’s resources than the etymologically and 
grammatically distinct tools of Swedish, which forced him to gener- 
ate lengthy descriptive phrases instead of pithy participles. Although 
his notes are often in Swedish, he rigorously translated everything into 
Latin — for both external reasons of foreign communication and inter- 
nal ones related to the incapacities he perceived in his native tongue. 84 

The Ordinariness of Latin 

In 1977, a survey of the growth of scientific literature declared in pass- 
ing that the end of Latin was “a major misfortune.” 85 Certainly, by 1850, 
Latin was largely exiled from the community of scientific languages 
aside from specialized functions like botanical nomenclature. But, as 
we have seen, the death of Latin was often significantly exaggerated. 
There exists an interesting tension between the real history of Latin 
and the history of Latin as it was imagined by natural philosophers be- 
ginning to enter Scientific Babel. There had indeed been a time when 
Latin functioned as the universal language of scientific communication 
in Europe, but that reign was both shorter and more contested than is 
commonly recalled by wistful nostalgists. On the other hand, Latin as 
a real language continued to be useful for scholars like Bergman long 
after it had ceased to be universal. 

The underlying message of the polite interchanges of eighteenth- 
century chemists to the sage of Uppsala is that if Latin was not univer- 
sal, if it was just another language that could just as easily be French or 
English, then it was — in an important sense — not Latin. It had lost the 
power that imagined Latin had held since the Renaissance, the same 
power imagined Sanskrit and imagined Classical Chinese held for their 
respective regions. And once Latin was “demoted” to being a scientific 
language like any other — a peer of Danish, Dutch, English, French, 
German, Italian, and Swedish — then what was the point of taking all 
the trouble to memorize declensions and deponent verbs ? 

This whirlwind history of Latin up to the beginning of the nine- 
teenth century sets the stage for the history that follows in two senses. 
First, scientists experienced a very real sense of loss: from the growing 
inaccessibility of past writings that were cloistered in the citadel of the 
Latin language to the growing feeling by speakers of so-called minor 

The Perfect Past That Almost Was 


languages that they were now second-class participants in the scholarly 
conversation . 86 At the same time, the list of languages in which people 
thought it fitting to do science was too long for most scholars to seri- 
ously consider learning all fluently. (Bergman’s astonishing capacity for 
reading in multiple tongues was not widely shared in his own day, nor is 
it now.) By the middle decades of the nineteenth century, therefore, the 
folk memory of Latin among scientists and the general impracticality 
of treating all vernaculars equally resulted in a compression of scientific 
languages down to the triumvirate — a fitting Latin name! — of English, 
French, and German. Three is not as good as one, perhaps, but surely it 
is better than eight, or even four. Unless, of course, you were not lucky 
enough to be born or raised fluent in one of the three. What would be- 
come of you if you lived and thought in a language outside the triumvi- 
rate, and unlike Bergman you could not use Latin or another “neutral” 
tongue ? In the next chapter, we begin our history in earnest with a con- 
troversy about knocking on the door of European science from the lin- 
guistic netherworld of Tsarist Russia. 


The Table and the Word 

AeT iiHTHaAu,aTb TOMy Ha 3 aA> KorAa b: MHoro e 3 AHA h >kha b 3 anaAHOH 
EBpone, MHe hh pa 3 y hh ot Koro He npHXOAHAOCb HHnero noAo6Horo 
CAbimaTb; Pocchh 6o>iAHCb HHbie, MHorne ee noneMy-TO He aio6hah, 
HHKTO eio He HHTepeCOBaAC^, O HeH TOBOpHAH CTOAbKO ^ce, KaK 06 Hhahh, 
ABCTpaAHH. Tenepb BHAHa HecoMHeHHa^ nepeMeHa — P occhio 3HaTb 
^ceAaioT, BepiiT, hto TaK hah HHane OHa He oahoio CBoeio <j)H 3 HHecKOK) 


D. I. MENDELEEV, 1877 1 

Dmitrii Mendeleev had every reason to be happy in the summer of 
’6 9 — 1869, that is. It all started with an idea he had back in February, 
sitting in his apartments in St. Petersburg, the capital of Imperial Rus- 
sia, as he dove deeper into the writing of the second volume of his text- 
book, The Principles of Chemistry ( Osnovy khimii). He had packed the 
manuscript of volume 1 — what would eventually be several hundred 
printed pages — off to the publisher in December 1868, and now he was 
working on organizing volume 2. At first, it was hard going, since there 
were so many elements (fifty-five!) that needed to be treated in the same 
space with which he had covered only eight elements in loving detail 
in the first volume. Then he started comparing the atomic weights of 
groups of chemical elements. One thing led to another, and on 17 Feb- 

* “About fifteen years ago, when I traveled and lived a great deal in western Europe, I 
never came to hear anything similar from anybody; some were afraid of Russia, many 
for some reason didn’t care for it, no one was interested in it; people spoke about it as 
much as about India, Australia. Now an indubitable change is visible — people desire 
to know Russia, they believe that somehow or other, not only by its physical strength 
but also its people’s ideals, it will exert sooner or later its measure of influence on the 
fate of civilization.” 


5 * 

Ti = 50 Zr = 90 

? = 180. 

V = 51 Nb = 94 

Ta = 182. 

Cr = 52 Mo = 96 

W = 186. 

Mn = 55 Rh = 104,4 

Pt= 197,4 

Fe = 56 Ru = 104,4 

Ir= 198. 


= Co = 59 PJ = 106,6 

Os = 199. 

H =1 

Cu = 63,4 Ag= 108 


Lie = 9,4 

Mg =24 

Z 11 = 65,2 Cd = 112 

13 = 11 

Al = 27,4 

? = 68 Ur= 116 

Au= 197? 

C = 12 

Si = 28 

? = 70 Su = 118 

N = 14 

P = 31 

As = 75 Sb = 122 

Bi = 210? 

0 = 16 

S = 32 

Se = 79,4 Te = 128? 

F = 19 

Cl = 35,5 

Br = 80 J = 127 

Li = 7 Na = 23 

K = 39 

Rb = 85,4 Cs= 133 

TI = 204. 

Ca = 40 

Sr = 87,6 Ba = 137 

Pb= 207. 

? = 45 

Ce = 92 

? Er = 56 

La = 94 

? Yt = 60 

Di = 95 

? In = 75,6 

Th = 118? 

figure 2.1. The first published version of Mendeleev’s periodic system, dated 17 
February 1869 (according to the old Russian calendar — 1 March according to the 
Western European one). Mendeleev produced this tabular version while composing 
his textbook, The Principles of Chemistry. D. I. Mendeleev, Periodicheskii Zakon: Klas- 
siki Nauki, ed. B. M. Kedrov (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1958), 9. 

ruary (by the Russian old-style calendar; i March by the Western Euro- 
pean one) he sent a cleaned-up sheet to the printers for them to offset so 
he could mail it to various chemists both in Russia and in Europe. 2 The 
resulting image, Figure 2.1, when rotated 90 ° clockwise and reflected in 
a mirror, clearly shows us what it is: Mendeleev’s first published peri- 
odic system of chemical elements. This system, suitably expanded, re- 
vised, and reformatted, now hangs in every chemistry classroom on the 
planet and is widely known as the “periodic table” in English. 

Mendeleev needed a title for his printed sheet, and he dubbed it, in 
Russian, “Attempt of a system of elements, based on their atomic weights 
and chemical affinity.”* He requested that the printer produce 150 
copies for distribution to colleagues in Russia — a whopping proportion 
of the number of active chemists in this relative newcomer to advanced 
chemical research. But he realized that although Western Europeans — 



The Table and the Word 


the arbiters of chemical credit — might be able to figure out what the 
image represented by staring at it for a while, the title would be mean- 
ingless, and so he also requested fifty copies with an alternative French 
title, a translation from the Russian: “Essai dune systeme des elements 
d’apres leurs poids atomiques et fonctions chimiques.” 3 French was a 
good call: although he was uncomfortable in all foreign languages, this 
was Mendeleev’s best, and along with German and English it was one 
of the three languages that all chemists were expected to be able to read. 

There was, however, a slight problem with one word in the French. 
He called what he was producing a system — une systeme — but in French 
he used the feminine indefinite article with the masculine noun. What 
happened here ? Mendeleev initially wanted to call his image a classifi- 
cation (in Russian pacnpcAeAeiiHe/ruiprtv/c/c«/<?), and that noun is in 
fact feminine in French, so he used the appropriate article. When he re- 
placed the noun, he neglected to repair the article. This is a completely 
understandable mistake. Russian notoriously lacks direct and indirect 
articles. It was challenging enough to decide whether one needed the 
or a/an before a noun; once Mendeleev had correctly figured it out, he 
never went back to correct the gender. In Mendeleev’s first foreign pub- 
lication on his periodic system, there was a mistake of one word in the 
translation. Eater in 1869 one other translation of Mendeleev’s periodic 
system appeared, also with a single mistake, and this time there was hell 
to pay. That error triggered one of the most vehement and inflammatory 
priority disputes of the nineteenth century in any science. 

Priority disputes — arguments over who had come to a particular 
finding first — are endemic to science, and many of the landmark dis- 
coveries in its history are scorched by such conflicts: consider the calcu- 
lus, conservation of energy, and evolution by natural selection, to name 
just three prominent examples. 4 The periodic system was the single 
most important discovery of inorganic chemistry in the nineteenth 
century — and quite possibly of chemistry in general, in any century — 
and credit for such an achievement would bring professional status, his- 
torical immortality, and national prestige. It was a prize to be fought 
over, and Dmitrii Mendeleev is now universally awarded the laurels. 5 
But, as noted almost fifty years ago in what remains the most compre- 
hensive history of the periodic system, by J. W. van Spronsen, “once the 
time was ripe, the periodic system of elements was discovered almost 
simultaneously in the most leading countries of Europe and North 
America.” He apportioned the credit among no fewer than six individu- 



als: Alexandre -Emile Beguyer de Chancourtois, William Odling, John 
Newlands, Gustavus Hinrichs, Lothar Meyer, and Dmitrii Mendeleev. 6 
There is no question that the most vociferous contest at the time was 
between the last two. 

This chapter chronicles the priority dispute between Lothar Meyer 
and Dmitrii Mendeleev, but it is not fundamentally about that dispute. 
Instead, I wish to use the story of this chemical conflict that became a 
Russian-German standoff to dramatize the clash between Russian and 
German as scientific languages. By roughly 1850, the cacophony of new 
languages brought about by the demotion of Latin explored in the pre- 
vious chapter — the murmuring of Dutch and Swedish alongside the 
more prominent french and English — had softened and compressed 
into the three major scientific languages of the triumvirate: English, 
French, and German. Among themselves, these three languages com- 
prised the vast majority of publishing in the natural sciences, and in 
particular in chemistry. As the next most significant languages, Italian 
and Latin (still), slid into obscurity, how could any language break into 
this tight club of three ? Of course, one could simply publish in Czech 
or Greek, but that would not help with regard to the all-important issue 
of credit, the animating force behind every priority dispute. In order 
to count as a significant language of science, it was not enough simply 
to be written in, others had to be persuaded to read it. And if almost 
no practicing, established scientists outside of your own country knew 
your language — or even, in the case of Russian, your alphabet — how 
could you make them pay attention? 

This chapter and the one that follows are about this problem of the 
introduction of a new language of science, told from the perspective of 
the “marginal” community (in this instance, that living in the largest 
country on the globe, i.e., Russia) trying to make their publications in 
their native tongue count from the perspective of Anglophones, Franco- 
phones, and Germanophones. This has only succeeded twice since the 
creation of the triumvirate: in the mid-nineteenth century with Rus- 
sian, and in the mid-twentieth century with Japanese. There are two 
stages to the process of inclusion, divided here between this chapter and 
the next; they happened in the case of Russian in a rather counterintui- 
tive inverse order. First, the Russians had to make the Europeans take 
notice, to convince them that there was something being produced in 
Russian that was worth reading — or, at the very least, that a publication 
in Russian served as adequate announcement of a discovery. And sec- 

The Table and the Word 


ond, chemists had to actively construct Russian as a scientific language, 
make it able to “hold” science by endowing it with a nomenclature and 
other linguistic elements that made the process of mutual translation 
between it and the triumvirate more straightforward. 

More straightforward, but never completely easy, as the fate of Men- 
deleev’s periodic system illustrates. Tracing that story brings us directly 
to the vagaries of publication in Russian in the second half of the nine- 
teenth century. The Mendeleev-Meyer dispute was not simply a con- 
troversy about publication (specifically, the language of publication); 
it quickly escalated into a nationalist border war between two scientific 
communities. Seeing how these groups interacted provides a glimpse at 
the intricately textured fabric of European chemistry and enables us to 
see how much can hinge on a single word, one which slipped past the 
translator’s pen with barely a second glance. It would be over a decade 
before the dust settled. 

A Small Mistake 

The February 1869 leaflet was all well and good, but it was hardly suf- 
ficient. If Mendeleev really wanted to receive credit for his system of 
elements, his classification that he believed would enable him to cor- 
rect previous misconceptions about atomic weights and also perhaps to 
predict the properties of yet-undiscovered elements, he knew he needed 
to do more than print one table underneath a single line of text. He 
still had to explicate the system, publish articles in scholarly journals 
that explained his process of reasoning and drew out the implications; 
anything less would be a chemical curio, a mere rearrangement of data. 
Mendeleev was a young chemist on the make in the Imperial capital, 
and he thought this system might make a splash if pitched just right, 
and for that he needed the imprimatur of two different audiences: Rus- 
sian chemists, especially those in St. Petersburg who would be involved 
in decisions about professional advancement; and the international 
chemical community, who would not even notice anything published 
in Russian. That meant not one publication, but at least two. 

Publishing in Russian had become almost trivially easy since the 
establishment of the Russian Chemical Society the previous autumn, 
complete with its own Russian-language Journal of the Russian Chemi- 
cal Society, then in its first year. Tire printed minutes in that journal of 
the meeting of 6 March 1869 (18 March on the Western calendar), the 



first monthly meeting after his formulation of his periodic system, an- 
nounced as its first point: “N. Menshutkin” — the secretary of the So- 
ciety, editor of the journal, and Mendeleev’s colleague at St. Petersburg 
University — “reports on behalf of D. Mendeleev an attempt at a sys- 
tem of elements, based on their atomic weight and chemical affinity. In 
the absence of D. Mendeleev” — who was visiting cheese cooperatives 
as a consultant — “discussion of this report is deferred to the following 
meeting.”* 7 That announcement was followed by articles in both the 
April and August issues, expanding upon and deepening the implica- 
tions of this new system of elements. 

Taking care of the second community was almost as easy, with a 
ready outlet for translations of Russian into German in the form of the 
Zeitschrifttfur Chemie. One of the editors of this Gottingen-based jour- 
nal was Friedrich Konrad Beilstein, whose name advertised his German 
ancestry but who was in fact born in St. Petersburg and was entirely bi- 
lingual in Russian and German. He had often promoted the idea of the 
Zeitschrift as a venue for publishing the work of Russian chemists be- 
fore the Russian Chemical Society’s own organ came into existence, and 
there was no reason Mendeleev should not avail himself of that offer 
now. 8 Mendeleev took his ten-page article from the April issue, shrunk 
it to a page-long abstract, and handed the Russian text over to Beilstein, 
who arranged for a translation and sent it off to Germany. 

In the summer of 1869, Lothar Meyer had been making very good 
progress in his own chemical research, until he was taken aback by a 
letter from St. Petersburg. His close friend Friedrich Beilstein had sent 
him a translated abstract from Petersburg featuring a system of chemi- 
cal elements, and asked Meyer to see to it that this was placed in the 
Zeitschrift . 9 Meyer did such tasks routinely, working as Beilstein’s man- 
on-the-ground from his own position at Karlsruhe Polytechnic. Meyer 
transmitted the piece to the printers, but he could not have failed to de- 
spair. He had been working on such a system of elements — almost iden- 
tical to the one produced by this “Mendelejeff.” In the first edition of 
his widely read textbook, Modern Theories of Chemistry ( Die modernen 
Theorien der Chemie ), published in 1864, he had explored the corre- 
lations between families of elements, including a “table [which] gives 

*“H. MeHiiiyTKHH coo6maeT ot hmchh j \. MeHAeAeeBa om>iT chctcmw SAeMeHTOB, 
MeHAeAeeBa o6cy>KAeHHe 3Toro coo6m,emiH OTAO^ceHO ao CAeAyK)in;ero 3aceAaHHii.” 

The Table and the Word 


Differcn* = 

Diflerenz = 

Diflerenz = 

4 wcrthig 

3 wcrthig 

2 wertbig 

1 wcrthig 

1 wcrthig 

2 wertbig 




Bi =7,03 

(Bo = 9,3?) 






c = 1 - 2,0 

N = 14,04 

0 = 16,00 

FI = 19,0 

N» =23,05 

Mg = 24,0 







Si = 28,5 

P =31,0 

S = 32,07 

Cl = 35,46 

K = 39,13 

Ca = 40,0 

89,1 _ „ 

~i 4J ' 5a 






As =75,0 

Sc = 78,8 

Br = 79,97 




Sr = 87,6 







Sn = 117,6 

Sb =120,6 

To = 128,3 

J = 126,8 

Cs =133,0 

Bu = 137,1 

89,4 =2.44,7 

87,4, = 2.43,7 



(71 =2-35,5) 


Pb =207,0 

Bi =208,0 



(T1 =204?) 


figure 2 . 2 . Lothar Meyer’s table of elements from the first edition of: Modern 
Theories of Chemistry (1864). Notice the strong similarity to the Mendeleev table, 
which was first composed five years later. Lothar Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der 
Chemie und ihre Bedeutungfur die chemische Statik (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 
1864), 137. 

such relations for six groups of elements well characterized as belong- 
ing together.”* 10 It was not complete, that’s true, but one can see from 
Figure z.z that it indeed was quite similar to Mendeleev’s, and dated 
five years earlier. In fact, in 1868, he had developed a complete table 
of elements — published only posthumously by his student and friend 
Karl Seubert — which he was slowly writing up. 11 And now he had been 

Or had he ? There was something odd about the abstract published in 
the Zeitschrift fur Chemie, something missing . . . Oh, that was it ! In the 
one-page abstract, spread across the bottom half of one page and the top 
half of its verso, Meyer reviewed the series of numbered points where 
Mendeleev drew out the implications of this table of elements. The very 
first of them read: “1. The elements ordered according to the magnitude 
of their atomic weights show a phased (. stufenweise ) change in proper- 

*“Tabelle giebt solche Relationen fiir sechs als zusammengehorig wohl charakteri- 
sirte Gruppen von Elementen.” 



ties.”* 12 Meyer had suspected for some time that the system of elements 
was in fact periodic, displaying a repetition of properties that recurred 
much like a sine wave; it seemed that Mendeleev had noticed only a 
step-wise or phased change in the properties, not the precise charac- 
ter of that relationship. Meyer took out his pen and continued revising 
his essay on his own system of elements, to be published in the most 
prestigious chemical journal of the day, the Munich-based Annalen der 
Chemie und Pharmacie, known universally as Liebig’s Annalen after its 
founder and long-term editor, Justus von Liebig. Citing Mendeleev’s 
Zeitschrifi piece generously, Meyer noted that the Russian had observed 
that when “one orders the atomic weights of all elements without ar- 
bitrary selection by their magnitudes in a single row, this row splits 
into sections, and these fall into an unchanging succession one after 
another.” 1 Mendeleev’s contribution was important, but Meyer’s emen- 
dation was more significant, because in his rendition “we take from 
the table that the properties of the elements are mostly periodic func- 
tions of the atomic weights,’ ”* and that “[o]ne immediately sees from 
the course of the curve [Figure 2.3] that the volume of the elements, just 
as their chemical behavior, is a periodic function of the magnitude of 
their atomic weights.” * 13 

Opening his own copy of th t Annalen back in Petersburg, nowit was 
Mendeleev’s turn to sit stunned. What did Meyer mean that he was the 
one to introduce the word periodic ? You could see right in the original 
April 1869 article that Mendeleev had considered periodicity the cru- 
cial feature of the table. In that very first publication, in the enumer- 
ated list of conclusions at the end of the article, the corresponding first 
item read: “1. The elements, arrayed by the magnitude of their atomic 
weights, present a distinct periodicity of properties.”" 14 It was even itali- 

*“i. Die nach der Grosse des Atomgewichts geordneten Elemente zeigen eine stufen- 
weise Abanderung in den Eigenschaften.” 

* “man die Atomgewichte aller Elemente ohne willkiirliche Auswahl einfach nach der 
Grosse ihrer Zahlenwerthe in eine einzige Reihe ordnet, diese Reihe in Abschnitte 
zerlegt und diese in ungeanderter Folge an einander fiigt.” 

“entnehmen wir aus der Tafel, dass die Eigenschaften der Elemente grossentheils 
periodische Functionen des Atomgewichtes sind.” 

^“Man sieht aus dem Verlaufe der Curve sofort, dass die Raumerfullung der Ele- 
mente, eben so wie ihr chemisches Verhalten, eine periodische Function der Grosse 
ihres Atomgewichtes ist.” 

*“1. DAeMeHTbi, pacnoAO>KeHHbie no BeAHHHHe nx aTOMHoro Beca, npeACTaBAHioT 

figure 2.3. Lothar Meyer’s atomic-volume curve, which presents the periodicity 
of chemical elements in a manner quite different from the now-standard table. Lothar 
Meyer, “Die Natur der chemischen Elemente als Function ihrer Atomgewichte,” 
Annalen der Chemie und, Supp. VII (1870): 354-364, insert. 

cized. How had the word periodic come to be rendered as stufemveise 
instead of periodische'i 

Mendeleev blamed Beilstein. 15 Beilstein was flooded by Russian- 
language abstracts, handed to him with the dual request that he both 
arrange for their translation and publish them as rapidly as possible — 
two charges that could not both be met, since careful translation took 
time. Beilstein had handed Mendeleev’s abstract to A. A. Ferman, an 
assistant then working in his laboratory at the Technological Institute 
in St. Petersburg, and asked him to translate it. With speed as the chief 
goal, he raced through it, not considering the word “periodic” to be of 
particular importance and substituting “phased” instead, a choice he 
confessed to as an audience member at a lecture on the priority dispute 
in 1911, long after Mendeleev, Meyer, and Beilstein were all safely dead. 16 

Tlie damage had been done, and Meyer was in print claiming to have 
made a central innovation on Mendeleev’s system of elements, now 

6 o 


universally called a “periodic system” in both German and Russian. 
In 1870, Mendeleev was even willing to cite Meyer and grant him lim- 
ited credit in Russian . 17 Yet when it came to the high stakes of his mas- 
sive reprise of the periodic system to be placed in Liebigs Annalen the 
year after Meyer’s, Mendeleev would be more circumspect. As usual, 
Mendeleev wrote the lengthy piece in Russian, but this time he had 
his trusted friend Felix Wreden render it carefully into German, just 
as Wreden almost certainly translated the cover letter to the Annalen 's 
new editor, Emil Erlenmeyer. Insisting once again on the importance 
of the original Russian publications, even in this letter Mendeleev de- 
clared that the German article before Erlenmeyer could not be consid- 
ered final: “Despite its size the present article does not report the course 
of my ideas in all the details, which are developed more completely and 
gradually in my Russian articles and in my ‘Principles of Chemistry’ and 
which I would happily share with the German public.”* 18 In the article 
Mendeleev hit the concept of periodicity — and, crucially, the ivord — 

From the foregoing, as well as from other surveys introduced by me 
to this point, it follows that all functions by which the dependence 
of properties upon the weight of the atom are expressed mark them- 
selves as periodic fi . .] Thus the periodic law can be expressed in the 
following manner: the properties of the elements (also as a result the 
simple and compound bodies formed out of them) find themselves 
in a periodic dependence from their atomic weights . t 19 

This, he hoped, ought to the settle the issue of credit and priority. Meyer 
did not completely agree, and while in the second issue of his Modern 
Theories textbook, published in 1872, he granted Mendeleev the lion’s 

*“Trotz ihres Umfanges giebt vorliegende Abhandlung meinen Ideengang doch 
nicht in alien den Details wieder, welche in meinen russischen Abhandlungen und in 
meinen ‘Grundziigen der Chemie’ vollkommener und allmaliger entwickelt werden 
und welche ich gern dem deutschen Publicum mitgeteilt hatte.” 

t “Aus dem Vorhergehenden, sowie aus anderen von mir bis jetzt ausgefiihrten Zu- 
sammenstellungen folgt, dass alle Functionen, durch welche die Abhangigkeit der 
Eigenschaften von dem Gewicht der Atome ausgedriickt wird, sich als periodiscbe 
kennzeichnen.[. . .] Daher kann das periodische Gesetz folgendermassen aus- 
gedriickt werden: die Eigenschaften der Elemente (folglich auch der aus ihnen gebil- 
deten einfachen und zusammengesetzten Korper) befinden sich in periodischer Ab- 
hdngigkeit von deren Atomgewichten!' 

The Table and the Word 

6 1 

share of the credit and fulsome praise, in the 1876 third edition he in- 
sisted that he himself had contributed a great deal to the development 
of the system, and that Mendeleev’s “schema at that time [i.e., 1869] 
contained in itself still much arbitrariness and lack of regularity, which 
were later eliminated.”* 20 They really ought to share the credit. Aside 
from minor sniping in articles across the 1870s, the issue lay quiet, but 

Until Adolphe Wurtz, professor of chemistry at the Sorbonne and 
the most distinguished chemist in France, decided to douse the whole 
affair in kerosene. In 1877, Wurtz wrote privately to Mendeleev to ex- 
press “my opinion on your admirable works on atomic weights, which I 
consider the most important progress that the atomic theory has made 
for a long time.” t21 In his history of atomism, published two years later 
in French, Wurtz upped the ante by publicly emphasizing Mendeleev’s 
invention of periodicity and his Russian identity: “Recently, the works 
of M. Mendeleff have opened a new day on the relations which exist 
between the atomic weights of simple bodies and their properties. The 
latter are a function of their atomic weights, and this function is peri- 
odic. That is the proposition put forward by the Russian chemist.’^ 22 
Wurtz was certainly entitled to his opinion, at least when publishing in 
French. In January 1880 the Berichte of the German Chemical Society 
published a letter from the French chemist that complained about the 
German translation of his La theorie atomique. Apparently, the German 
translator, a certain C. Siebert from Wiesbaden, had permitted an un- 
authorized preface and textual emendations — without seeking Wurtz’s 
permission — that gave Lothar Meyer a greater share of credit in the 
periodic system. Wurtz sent a letter to the loudest megaphone in the 
German chemical community he could find in order to state his views 
that this revisionist position was “not well founded.” 51 23 

Lothar Meyer responded to the salvo twice. First, he wrote a letter 

*“Sein damaliges Schema enthielt indessen noch manche Willkiir und Unregel- 
massigkeit, die spater ausgemerzt wurde.” 

^“mon sentiment sur vos admirables travaux sur les poids atomiques, que je consi- 
dere comme le progres le plus important que la theorie atomique ait fait depuis long- 

*“Dans ces derniers temps, les travaux de M. Mendeleff ont jete un jour nouveau sur 
les relations qui existent entre les poids atomiques des corps simples et leurs proprie- 
tes. Celles-ci sont fonction des poids atomiques, et cette fonction est periodique. Telle 
est la proposition enoncee par le chimiste russe.” 

^“nicht wohl begriindet.” 

6 2 


of his own to the council of the Society, declaring that he had been 
irritated by the similarity of Wurtz’s book to his own Modern Theories 
and his publisher insisted on inserting a correction. (Wurtz considered 
this defense preposterous.) 24 At the end of his letter, however, Meyer 
also added a note about credit: “Occasionally I had also suspected that 
Mr. Wiirtz had not entirely correctly distinguished Mr. Mendelejeff ’s 
and my contribution to the development of the most recent atomic 
theory from each other. [. . .] Since this is now touched upon, I want to 
make this historically entirely clear to him in a note to the Berichte 25 
Meyer’s second rebuttal, dated 29 January 1880 from his final post at the 
University of Tubingen in southern Germany, declared that any “un- 
prejudiced judge” 1 could look at his first edition of his Modern Theories 
and see that the essence of the periodic system was already present. He 
then noted that the original abstract in the Zeitschrift fur Chemie had 
left an important point ambiguous: 

In the accompanying text it was said that the elements ordered ac- 
cording to the magnitude of their atomic weights showed a phased 
( stufenweise ) change in their properties, that the magnitudes of 
the atomic weights determine the properties, that certain atomic 
weights are in need of correction and that the discovery of new ele- 
ments was predictable; in addition to still other less important com- 
ments. Mr. Mendelejeff published these points of view in any event 
before me and probably altogether for the first time. 4 26 

He thus granted Mendeleev credit, but insisted that periodicity was his 
own innovation, lamenting only that the editors of th zAnnalen had not 

*“Gelegentlich hatte ich auch erwahnt, Hr. Wiirtz habe Hrn. Mendelejejf’s und mei- 
nen Antheil an der Entwickelung der neueren Atomlehre nicht ganz richtig gegen 
einander abgegrenzt.[. . .] Da dieser einmal beriihrt ist, will ich ihn in einer Note in 
den Berichten historisch vollig klar stellen.” 

; “unbefangener Beurtheiler” 

1 “ I m begleitenden Texte war gesagt, dass die nach der Grosse des Atomgewichtes 
geordneten Elemente eine stufenweise Abanderung der Eigenschaften zeigen, dass 
die Grosse des Atomgewichtes die Eigenschaften bedinge, dass einige Atomgewichte 
der Berechtigung bediirftig und die Entdeckung neuer Elemente vorherzusehen sei; 
daneben noch einige weniger wichtige Bemerkungen. Diese Gesichtspunkte hat also 
Hr. Mendelejeff jedenfalls vor mir und wahrscheinlich iiberhaupt zuerst veroffent- 

The Table and the Word 


granted him enough space in 1870 to elaborate upon the differences be- 
tween their two theories. 

Mendeleev was furious. In an annotation to his bibliography that 
he penned late in life, he noted of his reaction that “I cannot stand 
this polemic of priorities, but the Germans forced me to answer.”* 27 
Mendeleev devoted the bulk of his own retort to Meyer, published in 
the same volume of the Berichte, to translated quotations from various 
original Russian publications. Borrowing a rhetorical device deployed 
in his textbook, The Principles of Chemistry , Mendeleev confined most 
of his own commentary on the significance of these translations to the 
footnotes, observing that “The word periodicity is emphasized in the 
original,” 1 and that the repetition of this word throughout the article 
“clearly shows that I at the very beginning (March 1869) considered 
periodicity as the fundamental property of the system of elements I had 
offered. Here it is clearly seen that I did not borrow this word from Mr. 
L. Meyer’.' ’* He concluded by noting that the citation to the original was 
prominently displayed in the Zeitschrift publication, and “could have 
been known therefore to Mr. L. Meyer f and thus that “Mr. L. Meyer 
did not have the periodic law in mind before I did, and introduced 
nothing new afterward.” • 28 

This fight was thus still going on over ten years after it had begun. 
Meyer had hoped that his historical rejoinder to Wurtz — that he con- 
sidered admirably dispassionate and objective — would have taken care 
of this mess. After all, he had already ceded most of the credit to Men- 
deleev, only despairing that the Russian had not cited his 1870 work 
more generously. But Mendeleev wanted all of the credit, and his claim 
to that hinged on evaluating the status of that April 1869 publication 
as a scientific publication. It was longer, more detailed, and crucially 
earlier than the Zeitschrift abstract, but it was also, Meyer observed, 
written in Russian. This, he believed, was an important difference: 

* “3Ty iio.u'MHky npiiopineroB — a TepneTb He Mory, ho Mena HeMU,t>i iipnHY.kAaui 

“ I )as Wort Periodicitdt ist in dem Original unterstrichen.” 

*“zeigt deutlich, dass ich ganz im Anfange (Marz 1869) die Periodicitat fur die 
Grundeigenschaft des von mir gegebenen Systems der Elemente hielt. Hieraus ist 
deutlich zu ersehen, dass ich dieses Wort nicht Hrn. L. Meyer entlehnt habe.” 

^ “also Hrn. /.. Meyer halt e bekannt sein konnen.” 

^ “dass Hr. L. Meyer vor mir das periodische Gesetz nicht im Sinne gehabt und nach 
mir nichts Neues hinzugefiigt hat.” 

6 4 


I had found what I wrote in December 1869 about the periodicity 
of properties before the published abstract from Mr. Mendelejeff ’ s 
work in the Zeitschrifi fur Chemie in that same year came to my 
attention. Naturally however I only claimed for myself what that 
piece did not contain and what seemed to me to need improvement 
in it. Mr. Mendelejeff now claims that his articles which had then 
appeared in the Russian language contained everything that I had 
improved and introduced, and reproached me for not getting hold 
of his original articles. It seems to me an excessive demand that we 
German chemists read, besides those articles appearing in the Ger- 
manic and Romance languages, also those in the Slavic languages, 
and should monitor the accuracy of the German reports about their 

_ _ *29 


Now it was out in the open. Mendeleev had published, but he had 
published in Russian. In an important sense, this meant it did not 
count. Here was the bedrock issue behind this fight over priority: the 
status of Russian as a scientific language. Could the Russians consider 
articles written in their incomprehensible tongue and national journals 
as equivalent to those printed in established languages like German, 
French, and English — or even Italian? 

Let Them Read German 

The answer to that question requires a step backward, to the history of 
Russians’ attempts to establish scientific publishing in their own lan- 
guage and on their own terms. It was a lengthy trek. Suppose you were 

*“Was ich im December 1869 iiber die Periodicitat der Eigenschaften schrieb, hatte 
ich gefunden, bevor mir der im demselben Jahre in der Zeitschrift fur Chemie ver- 
offentlichte Auszug aus Hrn. Mendelejeff^ Arbeit zu Gesichte kam. Natiirlich aber 
habe ich nur das fur mich in Anspruch genommen, was dieser nicht enthielt und 
was mir an ihm der Verbesserung bediirftig schien. Hr. Mendelejeff giebt nun an, dass 
seine damaligen in russischer Sprache erschienenen Abhandlungen alles das enthal- 
ten haben, was ich verbesserte und hinzufugte, und macht mir zum Vorwurfe, dass 
ich mir nicht seine Originalabhandlungen verschafft habe. Mir aber scheint es eine 
zu weit gehende Forderung, dass wir deutschen Chemiker, ausser den in german- 
ischen und romanischen, auch noch die in slavischen Sprachen erscheinenden Ab- 
handlungen lesen und die deutschen Berichte iiber ihren Inhalt auf ihre Genauigkeit 
priifen sollen.” 

The Table and the Word 


a chemist at the heart of the Russian Empire, St. Petersburg, in 1861, in 
the months after the Emancipation of the serfs in February, or perhaps 
even after the liberalization of the Tsarist censorship in 1865. Where 
would you publish original research? Russian-language technical jour- 
nals were few and far between. In 1804 the St. Petersburg Academy of 
Sciences began publishing a Technical Journal ( Tekhnicheskii zhurnal ) 
for a few years, but its main outlet remained its Bulletin , which printed 
pieces in French and German for the first half of the nineteenth cen- 
tury (in the previous century, the obligatory language had largely been 
Latin), and in any event you would need the endorsement of an acade- 
mician to publish there, which set a pretty high bar. The Mining] ournal 
( Gornyi zhurnal ) began publication in 1825, and for the rest of the cen- 
tury remained a significant outlet for works in applied chemistry and 
metallurgy. The problem was that almost no one read it or cited it, even 
among the elite scientists of the capital, let alone Western Europe. There 
were other experiments in both Petersburg and Moscow in the 1820s 
and 1830s, but they remained devoted more to popularization than to 
original research. 30 The solution seemed simple: write your article in 
French or German (or, very rarely, English), and send it abroad for pub- 

In 1859, two chemists based in Petersburg — Aleksandr N. En- 
gel’gardt, a talented organic chemist with rather substantial economic 
resources from his patrimonial estate, and Nikolai N. Sokolov, an am- 
bitious theorist with an affinity for Auguste Comte’s philosophy of 
Positivism — made an effort to remedy the situation . 31 First, they set 
up a private chemical laboratory on Galernaia Street, not far from the 
Winter Palace where the Hermitage Museum now sits, so research- 
ers could conduct their research, for a fee. This relieved some pressure 
on the University and Academy laboratories, the latter of which was 
closed anyway to non-academicians. Then, the two of them established 
N Sokolov and A. Engel’gardt’s Chemical Journal ( Khimicheskii zhur- 
nal N. Sokolova i A. Engel’gardta ), the first Russian-language journal 
explicitly and exclusively devoted to the science of chemistry. The price 
for a year, composed of twelve separate issues, was an affordable five 
rubles, and home delivery in St. Petersburg or Moscow was available 
for an additional ruble a year (other addresses commanded extra fees). 
The first issue was graced by a high-minded epigraph by distinguished 
historian Augustin Thierry, offered, naturellement, in French: “There is 
something in the world which is worth more than material pleasures, 



more than fortune, more than health itself — it is the development of 

»* 32 


In their introduction to the first issue, Sokolov and Engel’gardt pro- 
fessed the highest of motives: the creation of a Russian chemical com- 
munity. The journal was an essential part of that, not because there was 
no chemical information reaching the Russian public, but rather that 
there was too much, and not necessarily of the highest quality. The jour- 
nal “will give our public the opportunity above all to toss out from the 
majority of the diverse essays on chemistry all the rubbish, all the un- 
necessary, part of it even harmful, which is unfortunately published in 
enormous quantity in all the literatures, and to select only that which 
has indubitable merit in some respect .” 4 33 Readers would be supplied 
with original works by Russian chemists, translations of important 
chemical works from other languages, selected abstracts and sum- 
maries, and news of interest to chemists. 

It turned out to be pretty much a disaster. Initially, the two editors 
published their dissertations serially in the journal, and a few other Rus- 
sian chemists, such as Mendeleev, submitted original work. But only a 
few. As the first year transitioned into the second, an increasing portion 
of the journal was devoted to lengthy articles summarizing the research 
of foreign chemists, often with several articles mashed up into one 
single review essay . 34 Even more problematic, the editors were obliged 
to fill their issues with translations of articles written by Russian chem- 
ists but published abroad in journals like Liebig’s Annalen , 35 But, of 
course, Russian chemists could already read the originals in French and 
German — and, more importantly, so could the European chemists they 
perceived as their primary audience — so there was less and less demand 
for the Chemical Journal. Even those who did use it, like Mendeleev, on 
a postdoctoral jaunt to Heidelberg, complained that it was difficult to 
obtain copies while abroad; Sokolov shrugged it oft, noting only that 
“the sending of Russian books abroad is attended here, as they say, by 
unusual difficulties .” 436 In the end, the fiery Sokolov decided enough 

*“I1 y a au monde quelque chose qui vaut mieux que les jouissances materielles, mieux 
que la fortune, mieux que la sante elle-meme, c’est la devouement a la science.” 

+ << AaCT B03M0aCH0CTb CBepX TOrO HameH nydAHKe OTdpOCHTb H3 MHOJKeCTBa pa3HO- 
o6pa3HeHinHX coHHHeHHH no xhmhh Becb XAaM, Bee He HyacHoe, nacTb Aaace BpeAHoe, 
nydAHKyeMoe k coacaAeHHio b orpoMHOM KOAnnecTBe bo Bcex AHTepaTypax h BbidpaTb 
*“nepecbiAKa pyccKHX khht 3arpaHHU,y conpaaceHa y Hac, KaK roBopaT, c Heodbi- 

The Table and the Word 


was enough: he dissolved the private laboratory, donated its material re- 
sources to St. Petersburg University, and moved to a teaching job there 
(which he held until 1864, when he stormed out of the capital as well). 
The journal collapsed in i860, after only two years of publication. As 
far as Sokolov was concerned, the Russian chemical community he was 
trying to summon into being had failed him. The Chemical Journal had 
foundered because Russian chemistry did not exist. 

Tlie evidence does not support Sokolov’s pique. As the pages of his 
own journal attested, there were plenty of active researchers generating 
original findings in both experimental and theoretical chemistry, and 
they were eager to publish. It was simply that, when given a choice in the 
1860s about where to do so, Russian chemists overwhelmingly chose to 
publish in German. And not just in any journal, but overwhelmingly 
in one relatively marginal chemical periodical that we have already en- 
countered: the Zeitschrift fur Chemie. 

The Zeitschrift was not originally supposed to be a chemical journal, 
and it was certainly never intended to cater to Russians. When it was 
established in Heidelberg in 1858 by the quartet of August Kekule, Gus- 
tav Lewinstein, Friedrich Eisenlohr, and Moritz Cantor as the Kritische 
Zeitschrijt fur Chemie, Physik und Mathematik, it was as a review jour- 
nal, publishing critical commentary on recent publications in a wide 
variety of fields. Kekule — soon to become one of the founders of the 
structure theory of organic molecules and eventually a titan of Ger- 
man chemistry — defended the venture to the grand man of chemical 
publishing, Justus von Liebig, by claiming that “through detailed ab- 
stracts a service will be rendered to the public and that only thus can a 
dam be placed against the incessantly increasing slime-literature.”* 37 In- 
stead of erecting that barrier, it soon joined the slimy ranks; three of the 
four original editors abandoned the journal by the following year, and 
Gustav Lewinstein was joined on the masthead by pharmacist-turned- 
chemist Emil Erlenmeyer, who had just begun a lectureship in organic 
chemistry at the local university. Over the next five years, the journal, 
now a specialist journal renamed the Zeitschrift fur Chemie und Phar- 
macie, would become so heavily identified with Erlenmeyer (Lewin- 
stein soon decamped as well) that many library catalogs would simply 
refer to it as “Erlenmeyer’s Zeitschrift.” 38 

*“durch eingehende Rezensionen dem Publicum ein Dienst geleistet und daE nur so 
der fortwahrend zunehmenden Schmier-literatur einigermaEen ein Damm gesetzt 
werden kann.” 



The identification with Erlenmeyer was a mixed blessing. He was 
a talented theoretical chemist but a rather obnoxious editor. He pub- 
lished original pieces in the Zeitschrift, but he also reprinted abstracts 
of articles from other journals, and these he would pepper with sarcastic 
editorial comments, appendices, and interlinear exclamation points of 
disdain, earning him considerable enmity from the German chemical 
community. 39 On the other hand, he socialized extensively with the size- 
able group of Russian chemists who spent postdoctoral research visits 
in Heidelberg — most famously Mendeleev, but also the chemist-cum- 
composer Aleksandr Borodin and dozens of others — and published 
German-language articles by them in great number. 40 (For his services 
to the roughly sixty Russians who passed through his small laboratory 
on Karpfengasse in Heidelberg, the Tsarist government awarded him 
the Order of St. Anna in 1865. 41 ) 

The affiliation with the young Russians — and their evident affection 
for the man they dubbed “Eremich” — almost certainly prolonged the 
life of the journal, as Germans abandoned Erlenmeyer to his sneering. 
Although it was cumbersome to obtain the Zeitschrift within Russia 
(you had to make special arrangements with booksellers, in addition to 
the problems with the Russian mails), roughly 150 Russians subscribed 
to the journal by 1865, dwarfing German and West European orders. 
As Beilstein would remark the following year, “Erlenmeyer’s Zeitschrift 
was more popular in Russia than in Germany.”* 42 The finances of the 
journal were suffering, and Erlenmeyer was desperate to offload it. As 
he wrote to Aleksandr Butlerov, then professor of chemistry at Kazan 
but shortly to move to St. Petersburg: “Indeed, dear friend, I would like 
to induce you to consider whether you would not want to take this up 
yourself and make it into a Russian journal, but one that is printed in 
the German language. Perhaps you could thus unite a Russian chemi- 
cal society that made the Zeitschrift into its organ.” 1 43 Butlerov passed, 
but Erlenmeyer eventually found his successors in three young chem- 
ists at Gottingen: Hans Hiibner, Rudolf Fittig, and Friedrich Konrad 

" “l)ic Erlenmeyer’sche Zeitschrift war in Rufiland verbreiteter als in Deutschland.” 

; “Doch, lieber Freund, mochte ich Ihnen zu bedenken geben ob Sie dieselbe nicht 
in die Hande nehmen und zu einer russischen Zeitschrift machen wollen, die 
aber in deutscher Sprache gedruckt ist. Vielleicht konnen Sie damit eine russische 
Chemikergesellschaft verbinden, die die Zeitschrift zu ihrem Organ macht.” 

The Table and the Word 


It was the choice of Beilstein, who would move back to his native city 
of St. Petersburg in 1866 to assume a post at the Technological Institute, 
that would cement the Russians further to the Zeitschrift, with impli- 
cations for the fate of the periodic system. 44 He was an inspired choice 
to navigate the changing face of European chemistry: a native speaker 
of German and Russian, he was fluent as well in English and French, 
and managed reasonably deftly in Swedish and Italian to boot. 45 He was 
also incredibly industrious and a gifted organic chemist, both of which 
stood him in good stead as he and his colleagues attempted to revive the 
periodical Erlenmeyer had handed on to them. “My God!” he lamented 
to Kekule on 3 November 1865. “If I had been able to guess that one 
would earn for so much hard and bitter work so much unhappiness, 
dissatisfaction, trouble, and ingratitude, I would have sent Erlenmeyer 
home when he offered me the continuation of his rag last year.”* 46 The 
Gottingen triumvirate began to rebrand the periodical as one that pub- 
lished more quickly than the leading journal, Liebig’s Annalen, and so 
became the venue of choice for certain chemists seeking rapid publica- 
tion to vouchsafe their priority in chemical discoveries. That was one 
reason why Mendeleev had chosen it. 

But not the main reason. Beilstein carried on his duties as an edi- 
tor for the Zeitschrift when he left Gottingen, but he acquired an addi- 
tional responsibility: “I take everything Russian, since I remain the cor- 
respondent for Russia.” 1 47 Much like Erlenmeyer had, Beilstein realized 
that the support and contributions of Russian chemists, who had no 
national chemical journal of their own in the mid-i86os, was crucial 
for the financial solvency of the journal. As he wrote in a revealing let- 
ter to Butlerov in January 1865, shortly after assuming the role of editor: 

I will in conclusion emphasize again that the ‘Zeitschrift’ possesses 
in my person a warm representative of Russia’s interests. I wish that 
the Russian chemists not just laboriously work themselves to death 
with a Russian edition of their works (for you, who write German so 
expertly, this is truly not necessary!). But many might thus put off 
the publication of works, and thus I beg that they send me only the 

*“Bei Gott! Hatte ich ahnen konnen, dal? man fur diese harte und saure Arbeit soviet 
Ungliick, Unfrieden, Ungemach und Undank ernten wiirde, ich hatte den Erlenmeyer 
heimgeschickt, als er mir voriges Jahre die Fortfiihrung seines Wiirstblattes antrug.” 
t “Alles russische nehme ich an, da ich Correspondent fur Russland bleibe.” 



Russian articles. I wish to bear the burden of a correct translation. 

[. . .] Chemists speak only one language and thus one should also 

know in German what newly appears in Russia.* 48 

He practiced what he preached — in fact, he had been doing so for years. 
When Aleksandr Engel’gardt neglected to publish his researches any- 
where but in his doomed Chemical Journal, Beilstein summarized them 
in German and placed a report into the ZeitschriftJ 9 He did the same 
for Mendeleev’s 1864 Russian doctoral dissertation on alcohol-water 
solutions, adding that he hoped the author would publish a more ex- 
tended version of his findings in another language, thereby “making 
his classic work also known to the remaining public.” 1 50 It is clear from 
his correspondence that he worried extensively over the quality of the 
translations he commissioned or performed himself, and the Zeitschrijt 
under his editorship continued to be the German-language periodi- 
cal of choice for Russian chemists, the only national community to so 
favor it. 

Unfortunately, it was not enough. In 1871, the Zeitschrijt closed up 
shop, ending this experiment in transnational chemistry. As always, 
there was plenty of blame to go around, but the editors consistently 
fingered one culprit. In 1867, even before the unification of the country 
that would come to be called “Germany,” the German Chemical So- 
ciety was founded, and soon began publishing its journal, the Berichte. 
The Berichte also had to compete with the Annalen, and saw a niche 
in rapid publication of shorter articles, the very same strategy under- 
taken by the Zeitschrijt. It was bigger, however, and more prestigious, 
and subscribers to the latter began leaching away. “There remains no 
doubt: the Zeitschrijt fur Chemie can no longer be conducted the way 
it has been until now,” Beilstein wrote to Erlenmeyer in 1871. “Through 
the successful activity of the Berliner Berichte one of the chief tasks of 

*“Ich will zum Schlufi noch hervorheben, dafi die ‘Zeitschrift’ in meiner Person einen 
warmen Vertreter der Interessen RuFlands besitzt. Ich wiinsche, dafi sich die russ- 
ischen Chemiker nicht erst miihsam abplagen mit einer russischen Redaktion ihrer 
Arbeiten (bei Ihnen, der so gewandt deutsch schreibt, ist es freilich nicht nothig!). 
Aber Mancher konnte dadurch die Publikation von Arbeiten aufschieben, u. darum 
bitte ich mir denn nur russisch die Abhandlungen zuzusenden. Fiir eine correkte 
Ubersetzung will ich schon Sorge tragen.[. . .] Die Chemiker reden so eine Sprache u. 
darum soil man auch in Deutschland wissen, was in Rutland neu erscheint.” 

* “seine klassische Arbeit auch dem ubrigen Publicum bekannt machen.” 

The Table and the Word 


the Zeitschrift — to publish rapidly — is effectively solved.”* 51 The blame, 
that is, lay with the Germans, who were centralizing cultural authority 
along with political authority in Berlin. 

There was much truth to this account, but Beilstein and his fellow 
editors neglected another competitor to the Zeitschrift, one which 
peeled off its most loyal adherents. The Russian Chemical Society was 
created the year after the German, and the following year the Journal of 
the Russian Chemical Society suddenly appeared, described in the So- 
ciety’s charter thus: “this publication will include the works of Russian 
chemists, printed in the Russian language.” 1 52 Unlike the doomed ven- 
ture of the Chemical Journal a decade earlier, the Journal has continued, 
under a number of name changes, down to the present, becoming one 
of the most successful periodicals in the history of chemistry. It was not 
at first obvious that things would turn out this way. 

In its first year, the Journal printed a total of eighty copies, includ- 
ing the sixty issues reserved for Society members, most of whom were 
concentrated in St. Petersburg. 53 This meant, in short, that no one out- 
side of the same small circle of Russian chemists was reading it. Men- 
deleev lamented the state of affairs in 1871, no doubt influenced by his 
recent tangles with Lothar Meyer, and he suggested that “[i]n view of 
the fact that many of the works printed in the Society’s journal remain 
partly unknown abroad, partly known [only] through short extracts,” 4 
the Society should be careful to send copies to be reported in the Jahres- 
bericht, the German annual report of chemical publications. 54 Men- 
deleev’s worry was that Germans remained unaware of Russian publica- 
tions; his contemporary Vladimir Markovnikov of Moscow University 
was more concerned about the Russians. As he wrote to his mentor But- 
lerov in 1874: “Tell me, please, why have all the Petersburg chemists 
begun again to publish their works in foreign journals, and even earlier 
than in Russian? Why on Earth do our Society and Journal exist? I find 

*“Bei Gott! Hatte ich ahnen konnen, dafi man fur diese harte und saure Arbeit soviet 
Ungliick, Unfrieden, Ungemach und Undank ernten wiirde, ich hatte den Erlenmeyer 
heimgeschickt, als er mir voriges Jahre die Fortfuhrung seines Wiirstblattes antrug.” 

+ “hto ero H3AaHHe 6yAeT BKAionaTb TpyAw pyccKHx xhmhkob, nenaTaeMwe Ha pyc- 

CKOM ,H3I>IKe.” 

*“B BHAy toto, hto MHorne H3 padoT, HanenaTaHHbix b ^cypHaAe OdmecTBa, ocTa- 


7 2 


this completely tactless and, if this continues, I’ll quit the Society.”* 55 
(To remedy this problem, the Society even created prizes such as the 
Zinin/Voskresenskii prize and the Sokolov prize, both established in 
1880, which were to be awarded only to works printed in Russian. 56 ) 

Chemists working in Russia were keenly aware of local sensitivity 
on this question. For example, Beilstein wrote to Erlenmeyer, now an 
editor at the Annalen, that he hoped the latter could delay a forthcom- 
ing article on naphthalene: “Namely, I would not want this article to 
appear earlier by you than in our Russian journal. My patriotic friends 
would raise a stink that I did not provide the national organ with origi- 
nal articles.” 1 57 Or, as Butlerov’s student Aleksandr Popov wrote to his 
advisor: “Would you approve of my intention to place in our chemical 
journal my works which I am producing here in Bonn and which at 
the same time will be printed in German journals? I intend to send for 
our journal more detailed descriptions than for the Germans.” * 58 If any- 
thing the debates over the periodic system only highlighted these con- 
cerns, besides the general problems with the Russian mail and the tardy 
publication of several early issues of the Journal — occasionally Russians 
had to learn what was in their own journal by reading the abstracts in 
the Berichte . 59 

Yet Russians now seemed willing to back their own journal in their 
own language, and thus the Zeitschrijt lost its prime clients. Markovni- 
kov suggested a division of labor in 1870 — “It is proposed to publish 
the works of Russian chemists by the degree of the accumulation of ma- 
terials; shorter reports, made at the meetings of the Society, should be 
printed in the Zeitschrijt — but it was too little, too late. 60 Beilstein, 

*“CKa:>KHTe, ncmaAyHCTa, noHeMy sto Bee neTep6yp>KCKHe xhmhkh HanaAH onRTb 
ny6AHKOBaTb cboh pa6oTw b HHOCTpaHHbix >KypHaAax, h Aa>xe paHbine, HeM Ha 
pyccKOM Rbi3Ke? K HeMy >Ke cymecTByeT Hame 06mecTBO h 2KypHaA? il Haxoacy sto 
coBepmeHHO decTaxTHbiM, h, ecAH Tax npoAOAJKHTCH, to BbiHAy H3 OdmecTBa.” 

+ “Ich mochte nahmlich nicht, daft diese Abhandlung friiher bei Ihnen als in unserem 
russischen Journal erscheint. Meine patriotischen Freunde wurden mir Krakehl ma- 
chen, das vaterlandische Organ nicht mit Original- Abhandlungen zu versehen.” 
*“OAo6pHTe ah Bw Moe HaMepeHHe noMeiijaTb b Ham xhm. 5xypHaA moh paboTw, 
KOTopbie npoH3Bo>xy 3Aecb b EoHHe h KOTopbie b to 5Ke BpeMH 6yAyT HanenaTaHbi b 
H eMeu,KHX jxypHaAax? A HaMepeH aa>i Harnero ^cypHaAa nocbiAaTb 6oAee noApodHbie 
onHcaHHH, neM aa~h HeMeu,KHX.” 

^“IloAO^KeHO H3AaBaTb padoTbi pyccKHX xhmhkob no Mepe HaxonAeHHR MaTepnaAOB ; 
xpaTKHe ^ce coobmeHHH, A^Aaeivibie b 3aceAaHHRX Obn^ecTBa, nenaTaTb b Zeit- 

The Table and the Word 


for one, was frantic that this insistence on publishing in Russian would 
doom the Russians to neglect, and turned to Erlenmeyer in 1872 with 
an impassioned plea: 

In any case I would like to make you aware how much it would lie 
in the interests of the readers of the Annalen if you wanted to give 
a little attention to the Journal of the Russian Chemical Society. Up 
to now I have enabled the traffic through abstracts. Since the New 
Year, however, following the news from Hiibner, I have laid aside my 
pen [at the ZeitschriJt\.Yhe Annalen must bring the works out com- 
pletely. Now however the Russians have all become great patriots: 
they no longer want to write up their articles in foreign languages. 
Only a few, e.g. Menshutkin, are so considerate as to worry about a 
translation themselves. Thus it is predictable that much useful work 
will be lost. You will earn a great merit if you tame this evil.* 61 

Erlenmeyer was willing to help, but only if the responsibility for trans- 
lations was assumed by the Russians. “I am of the view to ask the au- 
thors themselves to send us their articles in German or even French. It 
is greatly preferable to me, if the people concerned send their things 
themselves; they thus at the same time assume the responsibility for 
what stands written.” 1 62 After all, Erlenmeyer was observing the priority 
dispute unfolding between Meyer and Mendeleev in the pages of his 
own Annalen. He would hate to be blamed for something like that. 

*“Jedenfalls mochte ich Sie darauf aufmerksam machen, wie sehr es im Interesse der 
Leser der Annalen lage, wenn Sie dem Journal der russischen chemischen Gesellschajt 
einige Aufmerksamkeit schenken wollten. Bis jetzt habe ich den Verkehr durch Aus- 
ziige vermittelt. Seit Neujahr habe ich aber, infolge der Nachrichten von Hubner, 
meine Feder niedergelegt. Die Annalen miiBten die Arbeiten vollstandig bringen. 
Nun sind die Russen aber groBe Patrioten geworden: sie wollen ihre Abhandlungen 
nicht mehr in fremden Sprachen abfassen. Nur wenige wie z.B. Menschutkin sind so 
liebenswiirdig selbst fur eine Ubersetzung zu sorgen. Daher ist vorauszusehen, daB 
manche niitzliche Arbeit verloren gehen wird. Sie werden sich um Viele ein groBes 
Verdienst erwerben, wenn Sie diesem Ubel steuern.” 

+ “ich die Absicht habe die Herren Autoren selbst um Einsendung ihrer Abhand- 
lungen in deutscher oder franzosischer Sprache zu bitten. Es ist mir viel lieber, wenn 
die betrff. ihre Sachen selbst einsenden, sie iibernehmen damit zugleich die Verant- 
wortung fur das was geschrieben steht.” 



Solomon’s Baby 

There was probably no way to avoid a priority dispute about the peri- 
odic system of chemical elements. There were so many people approach- 
ing some version of an arrangement of the elements along the two axes 
of weight and chemical properties, that any two of them might have 
found themselves struggling to assume the credit. But history did not 
unfold in an imagined parallel universe, and instead of a different pri- 
ority dispute — or, however unlikely, no dispute at all — European chem- 
ists witnessed a sustained decade of angry sallies and counter-thrusts 
over the proper attribution of the discovery to either Dmitrii Men- 
deleev or Lothar Meyer. 

Just as there could have been many different contenders for pri- 
ority — others, such as John Newlands, who repeatedly attempted to 
claim credit for himself, might not have been summarily ignored by 
all — the Meyer-Mendeleev conflict could have unfolded in a number 
of different ways. It could, for example, have been triggered by the dis- 
covery of the three not-yet-discovered elements whose properties Men- 
deleev predicted: gallium (Mendeleev’s eka- aluminum) in 1875, scan- 
dium (eka-boron) in 1879, and germanium (eka-silicon) in 1886. Or 
chemists might have focused on Meyer’s curve of atomic volumes, and 
encouraged a range of graphical presentations of the relationships be- 
tween the elements. But those alternative histories also did not come 
to pass. Instead, we see Mendeleev and Meyer sparring with each other 
about credit largely as self-defined “Russian” and “German” chemists. 
The history suggests very strongly that this particular nationalist inflec- 
tion, not altogether rare in this period, was accentuated by the faulty 
translation in the first German-language article Mendeleev published 
on his system in 1869. It was, in short, a reflection of debates over scien- 
tific languages, concentrated in a single word: periodic. 

The emphasis on language was, to some extent, derived from the na- 
tionalist ideologies then sweeping across European culture, from which 
science was hardly exempt. This was the age of the unification of Ger- 
many, the creation of the French Third Republic, the Risorgimento in 
Italy, the Great Reforms in Russia, and many other smaller-scale clashes 
stemming from the entrenchment of the nation-state as the primary 
mode of the European political order (at least in Western Europe). But 
one does not need to look to such dramatic developments to locate 
the roots of the Mendeleev-Meyer conflict. There was, rather, a simple 
conjuncture of events in the late 1860s as Russian chemistry was begin- 

The Table and the Word 


ning to transition from being a subsidiary of German chemistry into an 
established feature of the Tsarist polity. Emblematic of this transition 
was the few years of overlap when Russians published simultaneously 
in the Journal of the Russian Chemical Society and the Zeitschrift fur 
Chemie. Russian science was not yet prominent enough to command 
attention when published in the Russian language, and so Mendeleev 
felt compelled to print his findings in German as well; the disconnect 
between the Russian and German versions motivated the subsequent 
hostility with Meyer. 

That hostility was never really resolved on a personal level. Men- 
deleev kept an exhaustive archive of correspondence, and yet one finds 
there only two substantial items filed under Lothar Meyer’s name. The 
second of these was a note from Meyer’s widow informing Mendeleev 
of her husband’s death in 1895 — an indication that the Petersburger 
was on the list of people to be personally informed of the sad event. 63 
In the earlier communication, a letter from 1893 that is the only per- 
sonal correspondence between the two in the archive, Meyer informs 
Mendeleev that the distinguished Leipzig chemist Wilhelm Ostwald 
had commissioned two issues of his Klassiker — pamphlets of primary 
sources on monumental chemical discoveries — on the development of 
the periodic system. Meyer edited the first, on the “precursors” who had 
noticed smaller patterns among the elements before the 1860s. 64 Since 
he was uncomfortable calling himself a “classic,” Meyer delegated the 
second volume on himself and Mendeleev to his student Karl Seubert. 
Meyer now asked Mendeleev to send copies of articles, especially “your 
article in the 1st volume of the Russ. Society, from which I had recently 
received an actual translation through Beilstein’s mediation.”* 65 Trans- 
lated into German, of course. One can detect a subtle friction in Meyer’s 
careful phrasing. We have no record of Mendeleev’s response, but Seu- 
bert’s volume containing the pieces was published in 1895. 66 

By that point, the controversy between the two had reached a semi- 
stable equilibrium. After the heated exchange in the Berichte of the 
German Chemical Society in 1880, Meyer and Mendeleev never again 
crossed swords directly. The tension was, however, palpable, and an out- 
side group decided to step in and resolve it by fiat. In 1882, the Royal So- 
ciety of London, Britain’s premier scholarly association, jointly awarded 
the two men the coveted Davy Medal “ [f ] or their discovery of the peri- 

*“Ihre Abhandlung in i Bd. der russ. Gesellschaft, von der ich durch Beilsteins Ver- 
mittlung kiirzlich eine wirkliche Uebersetzung erhalten habe.” 



odic relations of the atomic weights.” 67 This award was later dubbed 
by Seubert in his 1895 volume “a most just and beautiful decision,”* 
and it seemed to have calmed matters considerably. 68 A nonpartisan 
national organization opting for a middle path seemed to codify a con- 
sensus developing even among nationally committed observers. For ex- 
ample, when Butlerov gave lectures (in Russian) on the history of recent 
chemistry in 1879-1880, he also divided the credit between the two, 
and Nikolai Menshutkin continued this pattern in 1895 when he an- 
nounced Meyer’s death at a meeting of the Russian Chemical Society — 
with Mendeleev himself presiding. 69 Interactions between the men now 
dubbed “co-discoverers” remained officially correct on the few occa- 
sions when they interacted, as in one contemporary description of them 
together on the dais at the 1887 Manchester meeting of the British As- 
sociation. Here too, language played its role, when “there was a call for a 
speech from Mendeleef, he declined to make an attempt to address the 
section in English.” He knew that this was beyond his linguistic capaci- 
ties, so the Russian just stood up and bowed. But then Meyer, seated 
next to Mendeleev, rose, and — to avoid misunderstanding — declared: 
“I am not Mendeleeff.” But a moment later, “speaking in faultless En- 
glish, asked permission to address the section in German, and then pro- 
ceeded, on behalf of Mendeleeff and other foreign chemists present, to 
express the pleasure they had derived from listening to the Presidential 
address.” 70 At that time, as in 1880, Meyer got the last word. But after 
Meyer’s death in 1895, Mendeleev was left to shape the history, at which 
point he relented on his exclusion of Meyer from any credit and in- 
cluded him within his narratives of the system — but only as a “strength - 
ener” of the system, not as a full-fledged co-discoverer. 71 And it is Men- 
deleev’s post-Meyer allocation of credit that is dominant today. 

Perhaps the real victory was not who discovered the periodic sys- 
tem, but which languages were seen to “count” among the scientists of 
Europe. In no small part due to Mendeleev’s emphasis on the importance 
of reading his original writings in Russian to adjudicate priority — and 
no doubt the impressive quality of those works themselves — Western 
European scientists began to take notice of the Russian-language works 
published in the Journal. Foreign correspondents would report, in 
translation, on the major activities discussed at meetings of the Russian 
Chemical Society. The Belgians, for example, began publishing the Jour- 
nal’s table of contents in their own journal, in French, in 1875. 72 At the 

gerechteste und schonste Entscheidung.’ 

The Table and the Word 


twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Russian Chemical Society, 
President of the Chemical Society of London Henry E. Armstrong sent 
a congratulatory letter: “Notwithstanding the great difficulties which 
your language imposes, your english [sic] colleagues learn from time to 
time of your labours, the name of your Society and a record of its work 
regularly appearing in our volume of abstracts of chemical papers .” 73 
At the same meeting where this letter was read out, again under Men- 
deleev’s presiding eye, Menshutkin lauded his writings on the periodic 
system: “These works, printed in Russian, now become an achievement 
of universal science, thanks to abstracts about them in foreign schol- 
arly societies .”* 74 To be sure, Western Europeans were not signing up 
to learn Russian in droves, but a few did indeed try to master the Slavic 
tongue, and many of the others at least now came to understand that 
they could not simply dismiss writings in the language, as Lothar Meyer 
had, as not registering in the scientific literature. 

This was surely no small part of Mendeleev’s reasoning, in 1899, 
when he wrote — in French — that “as a Russian, I am proud of having 
participated in the establishment of the periodic law.” f 75 For something 
had indeed happened in the previous forty years that marked the dis- 
tance the Russian chemical community, and the scientific community 
in general, had traveled since the abortive efforts at founding a chemical 
periodical in 1859. In 1890, Russian historian Vasilii I. Modestov wrote 
about what he could now call Russian science-. “We know that during 
just these past twenty five years Russian science was created, a science 
which begins to garner to itself both in this and that area a recognition 
which before did not exist.” 4 76 For this recognition to happen, Russian 
science had actually to be written in Russian, and that entailed a delib- 
erate effort to modify the ancestral tongue so that it had the capacity 
and flexibility to express scientific thoughts. Much as Fatin had to adapt 
itself to Greek under Cicero’s nimble pen, so the Russians had to reform 
their language in the light of the scientific languages wafting toward 
them from the West: the triumvirate of English, French, and German. 

*“3th TpyAW, nenaTaeMbie no-pyccKH, CTaHOB.HTCH Tenepb AOCTOHHHeM BceMHpHOH 
HayKH, 6Aarc>Aapfl pe<j>epaTaM o hhx b HHOCTpaHHbix yneHbix odmecTBax.” 

*“Voila pourquoi, en ma qualite de Russe, je suis fier d’avoir participe a letablisse- 
ment de la loi periodique.” 

*“Mbi 3HaeM, hto b TeneHHe toabko-hto HCTeKHiero ABaAU,aTHiiHTHAeTHH co3/yaAacb 
pyccicaji Hayica, KOTOpaH HaHHHaeT noAynaTb b toh, to b ApyroH odAacTH cede npH- 
3HaHHe, Hero npe>KAe He dbiAO.” 


Hydrogen Oxygenovich 

Apyroe a^ao ecAH 6, HanpHMep, oh BcrpeTHAOi c Ah6hxom, He 3Ha>i, 

HTO 3TO BOT Ah6hX, XOTb B BarOHe XCeAe3HOH Aoporn. H ecAH 6 TOAbKO 
3ai!>i3M.\c>i pa3roBop o xhmhh h HameMy rocnoAHHy yAaAOCb 6b i k 
pa3roBopy iipMMa3a'n>c>i, to, coMHeHra HeT, oh Mor 6w BbiAepacaTb caM- 

«XHMH3», Oh yAHBHA 6bl, KOUC'UK), AH6HXa, HO KTO 3HaeT B TAa3aX 

CAymaTeAen ocraAOi 6m, mtokct 6biTb, no6eAHTeAeM. H6o b pyccKOM 
neAOBeKe Aep30CTH ero yaeHoro a3MKa — hohth hct npeAeAOB.* 

F. M. DOSTOEVSKY, 1873' 

Everyone says that Russian is a difficult language. Even centuries before 
Russia began to be a significant player in European politics — largely a 
consequence of Peter the Great’s 1721 victory over Sweden, replacing 
one great northern Empire with a much vaster one — diplomatic and 
mercantile writings by Westerners bemoaned its complexity, abstruse- 
ness, and general impossibility. As seen in the previous chapter, Rus- 
sian was considered far beyond the pale for European scientists in the 
late nineteenth century, individuals who routinely mastered English, 
French, and German (and others besides, if one of these three was not 
their native tongue) — not to mention the Latin they still carried with 
them as a badge of educational purgatory — so much so that the priority 
dispute over the periodic system can be largely understood as a struggle 

*“It would be another matter if, for example, he met [chemist Justus von] Liebig, not 
knowing that this was indeed Liebig, say in a railroad carriage. And if a conversa- 
tion about chemistry were to begin and our gentleman succeeded in joining in, then, 
there is no doubt, he could sustain the fullest scholarly debate, knowing about chem- 
istry only the single word ‘chemistry.’ He would astound Liebig, of course, but — who 
knows — in the eyes of listeners he might emerge the victor. Because there are almost 
no limits to the audacity of a Russian person in his scholarly language.” 



to make Western scholars pay attention, at least in domains like chemis- 
try, to writings issuing from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kazan. 

What was so hard about Russian? Most obvious is the alphabet, so 
unfamiliar to those raised with scripts derived from the Romans. This 
barrier, however, is easily surmounted, especially for one with a passing 
familiarity with the Greek alphabet — a trait common to classically edu- 
cated elites from the nineteenth century, and even more so to chemists 
with some training in mathematics. Many of the letters are either identi- 
cal to Latin ones (a = a, m = m), or simply modifications of the Hellenic 
system (n = p, a = d). True, there are fascinatingly odd letters to capture 
specifically Slavic sounds (:* = zh, m = shch), but surely some of these 
are at least as straightforward as the consonant clusters by which Latin- 
scripted Polish renders these same sounds. 

The writing system does not touch the linguistic heart of Russian 
itself, which indeed poses some serious challenges to the grammar- 
phobic student. I do not propose a detailed exposition of the structure 
of Russian, but some familiarity with the general characteristics of the 
language will help elucidate two major aspects of our story of scientific 
languages: first, why Western scientists (and others) found the language 
so alien, despite its membership in the Indo-European language family; 
and second, the particular obstacles that Russian chemists faced in con- 
structing a scientific nomenclature in their language that would match 
up to the extant vocabularies in English, French, and German. Since 
all of the problems that come up in this chapter have to do with termi- 
nology and nomenclature, I’ll just focus on nouns. 

Each Russian noun has one of three grammatical genders — 
masculine, feminine, and neuter. This is something of a shock to Anglo- 
phones, but it is matched by the same three genders in German. And, 
unlike German, one can (usually) identify the gender by inspection: if 
it ends in a consonant, it is masculine; if it ends in -a or -a (another way 
of writing “a”), it is almost always feminine (but there are also feminine 
nouns that end in a soft sign, t>, which cause all sorts of grammatical 
mischief); if it ends in -o or -e, it is neuter. The gender matters because 
adjectives have to agree, as do verbs in the past tense, and also because 
gender governs the declension into cases. Russian, like Latin, is an in- 
flected case language, meaning that the endings of nouns change on the 
basis of their grammatical function in a sentence. If Pushkin walked 
into a room, we would simply write “Pushkin.” If I punched Pushkin, 
transforming him into a direct object, we would write “Pushkins,” in 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 

the accusative case. If I told Pushkin dirty jokes, he becomes “Push- 
kina,” noticeably dative. You get the picture. There are six cases (nomi- 
native, accusative, genitive, prepositional, instrumental, and dative), 
one more than Latin, two more than German, and five more than En- 
glish (approximately; the ’s structure to indicate possession is the ves- 
tige of an old English genitive). English gets by without cases by ren- 
dering sentences in fixed word order: “Tolstoy kicked Pushkin” has a 
manifestly different meaning from “Pushkin kicked Tolstoy.” In Rus- 
sian, one marks this difference by changing the endings of the nouns, 
which means the word order can be flexible. If you are trying to read a 
chemical article to learn whether to add the acid to the salt or vice versa, 
this is an important distinction. 

Those are the only features of the language you need know to under- 
stand what follows. Tliis chapter is about how one builds a language — 
not an entire language (that’s the next chapter), but the subset to be 
used for science. I use the word “build” deliberately, because scientific 
languages have to be quite consciously constructed. No language — not 
Latin, not German, not English — “naturally” holds scientific concepts. 
There are many features of a language that have to be adapted to con- 
tain science, but in this chapter I focus on lexical changes. Science, and 
in particular chemistry, is a human activity that both requires a large 
number of names for objects in the world you want to describe, and re- 
quires those names to be precisely defined so that one can generalize 
from them. Likewise, scientists deploy a whole slew of abstract concepts 
(think of “potential” or “compound”) that need to be carefully distin- 
guished from their everyday meanings. The core reason why scientific 
languages require so much construction is that modern science focuses 
upon novelty: new objects in the world, new ideas, new theories. In 
chemistry, some of these particular problems receive unusual saliency. If 
you find an entirely new chemical element, it needs a name to differen- 
tiate it from all previous elements, and ideally its name would indicate 
that it was an element, part of a system. (In English, we have for over 
a century used the suffix -ium for this purpose.) Those names have to 
become common currency in the relevant community, or else they are 
useless for communication. How does this happen? 

Over the course of the nineteenth century, Russian chemists gradu- 
ally proposed, debated, and then adopted various chemical nomencla- 
tures, assimilating the language in the process to French or German 
models for how one should “speak” or “write” chemically. The pro- 



cess was immeasurably complicated by the tremendous discoveries and 
conceptual transformations that tore through the science in this same 
period, rendering both chemical French and chemical German un- 
stable. The Russians had two tools in building their scientific language: 
Russian itself, which has always displayed a Protean capacity to absorb 
words and even syntax from other languages; and knowledge of foreign 
languages, from which Russian chemists could appropriate and adapt 

With those two resources, we come to the heart of this chapter: 
translation. I tell two stories in what follows. First, how Western con- 
cepts were translated into Russian to form the rudiments of a chemical 
nomenclature. The crucial point here was timing: Russians began devel- 
oping a systematic inorganic nomenclature at precisely the moment that 
Antoine Lavoisier’s chemistry had reformulated the language of chem- 
istry in France, and they approached organic nomenclature in lockstep 
with a reform of that subject in Western Europe. Russian debates were 
thus part of a broader reconstruction of European scientific languages. 
From translation in, we then move to translation out, exploring the flow 
of translated textbooks from Russian into German, the opposite of the 
usual traffic. The success of this venture not only demonstrates the end 
of the struggle to establish Russian as a “legitimate” language of science, 
but also shows a nomenclature stabilized to a point where intertranslat- 
ability was relatively straightforward. This was a long way from 988 AD, 
and the conversion of Vladimir of Kiev to Orthodox Christianity. 

The Making of Modern Russian 

Today, Russian exists. It is a language associated with the world’s largest 
country, and textbooks and college courses proclaim that they will 
teach it to you. (Often, quite well.) But it would be a mistake to think 
of languages as existing in the same way as, say, that church down the 
street, or even like a lamb that will one day grow into an adult sheep. 
Languages are not single entities that either stand unaltered through 
the ages, or organisms that grow from childhood to maturity (and, 
sadly, sometimes die). Languages are in constant interaction, flowing 
into each other, diverging into dialects and shifting vowel patterns; and 
the erection of firm boundaries around the edge of a certain portion of 
speech behavior and declaring “This is Russian” or “This is Ukrainian” 
is the outcome of a series of intellectual and political decisions that do 
not always correspond to clear-cut distinctions in actual usage. Since 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 


the eleventh century AD — a millennium ago — we have records of a lan- 
guage that has, over time, become what we know as Russian, the domi- 
nant Slavic language today in terms of number of speakers. 2 The process 
of becoming, however, was not quite linear. 

Russian is a Slavic language, a member alongside Belorussian and 
Ukrainian of the East Slavic branch of that Indo-European language 
group. Slavic also has Western (Polish, Czech) and Southern (Bul- 
garian, Serbo-Croatian) branches, covering the broad eastern expanse 
of the European continent. These languages are obviously related to 
each other but are not necessarily mutually intelligible (much as Ger- 
man, Dutch, and Swedish are clearly related members of the Germanic 
language family, but fluency in one hardly conveys command of the 
others). The origins of the Slavic family are murky. We have reliable in- 
formation from the sixth century AD about the presence of speakers of 
what we would now call Slavonic languages in the Balkans, but the lan- 
guages themselves were not very strongly separated even in the ninth 
and tenth centuries, when our information becomes more reliable. The 
fact that they were so closely related at that time meant that various 
groups could use a common written language: Old Church Slavonic. 3 

In 863, Prince Rostislav of Moravia — in what is today the Czech 
Republic — sent a request for Christian missionaries to Byzantine Em- 
peror Michael III in Constantinople, to assist his people in resisting for- 
eign religious intrusion. (The foreigners were what we would today call 
Catholics.) Two monks, Constantine and Methodius, were dispatched, 
and one of their charges was to develop a script for the various Slavic 
tongues they encountered, derived from the Greek alphabet. On his 
deathbed, Constantine took the name Cyrill, and the later evolution of 
his Glagolithic script still bears his name. 4 The writing system was de- 
signed to render a written language based on a Macedonian dialect of 
Bulgarian, and it was adopted first by Western Slavs and then moved 
east. The language so written — Old Church Slavonic — became, in the 
words of one historian of Russian (as translated by Mary Forsyth), “a 
kind of common literary language in the medieval Slav world.” 5 It func- 
tioned, in many ways, like Latin occasionally did: as a purely written 
language for the liturgy and theology. Unlike Latin, it was apparently 
never used for speech, but it enabled epistolary communication among 
linguistically diverging groups who shared Slavonic even as they used 
what were becoming Old Russian or Polish in their everyday inter- 
actions. 6 But, since it was not Latin and not Greek, it also had the effect 
of insulating this eastern region from the explosion of classical learn- 

8 4 


ing in contemporary Europe. Old Church Slavonic was both a unifying 
force and an isolating one. 

In the region between Kiev, Novgorod, and Moscow, various dia- 
lects were spoken that are now labeled “Old Russian.” Beginning in the 
eleventh century, we find ecclesiastical writings in Russian, and in the 
following centuries these were j oined by legal and business documents — 
the so-called chancellery language — and then literature proper. 7 Many 
historians of Russian tend to speak of the language as literally trapped 
by Old Church Slavonic, arguing that “the subsequent history of both 
Russian language and Russian literature has been in a sense a long pro- 
cess of emancipation from the initial and paralysing influence of Byzan- 
tine culture working through the medium of Bulgarian.” 8 According to 
this rather essentialist vision of language, Russian’s development into 
a proper language was stalled by repeated incursions of Byzantine in- 
fluence, most notably the “Second South Slavic” influence of the four- 
teenth and fifteenth centuries, a consequence of learned immigrants 
from the Balkans flooding Moscow. 9 According to this traditional ac- 
count, Russian had to work to “liberate” itself from these backward- 
looking influences. Ironically, it did so by assimilating a different set of 
foreign models. 

In the early seventeenth century, Moscow became the center of a siz- 
able group of foreign merchants, who imported foreign books on top- 
ics ranging from medicine to mining to law. A printing boom followed, 
helping to standardize Russian. (There had been limited printing earlier 
in Muscovy; the first Russian printed book to carry a date appeared in 
1564.) This foreign learning often arrived via Poland or highly Polon- 
ized Ukrainian and Belorussian regions, and many of the new Russian 
words of Latin or German origin in fact entered through Polish media- 
tion. 10 

Russian has always been saturated with loan words. Common Slavic, 
which is the basis for East Slavic, already had Iranian and Germanic 
loans, the former donating terms for religion and the latter for materi- 
als and administrative organization. Scandinavian words poured in 
from the north beginning in the ninth century, often related to fishing 
and nautical matters. Abstract terms came either directly from Greek 
or through Old Church Slavonic mediation (and to a much lesser de- 
gree from Latin). Not all the imports were Indo-European: the Mon- 
gol invasions of the thirteenth century brought another torrent of 
linguistic borrowings, often related to finance, administration, trade, 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 


and communications — including the Russian words for “money” and 
“pocket .” 11 Thus the appropriation of Polish (and through it Latin and 
German) was not a new phenomenon. The flow back and forth shaped 
Russian, but not in any specific direction. 

This aimlessness changed decisively at the turn of the eighteenth cen- 
tury, as Tsar Peter the Great (reigned 1682-1725) undertook a deter- 
mined program of modernizing certain aspects of the administration 
and military of the Russian lands, in the process relocating the capi- 
tal from Moscow to the brand-new city of St. Petersburg. Peter initi- 
ated what one scholar has called the “polytechnicalization of language,” 
which brings us back to the main line of our story about scientific lan- 
guages. 12 Not only did he reform the alphabet in 1708, removing some 
of the more Slavonic features (Vladimir Lenin would introduce a final 
alphabetic simplification in 1918), he commissioned a massive series 
of translations of foreign texts to train the Russian nobility impressed 
into his service. Peter issued instructions to avoid Slavonic words and 
use everyday speech for translations, forcefully chiding translators who 
strayed from this directive. The tensions were at times unbearable. A 
certain Volkov, finding himself unable to render some passages of de la 
Quintinye’s Instructions sur les jardins fruitiers et potagers into Russian, 
committed suicide. 13 

Peter’s second impetus to the creation of a scientific Russian language 
was his 1724 establishment of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. 
Petersburg. Peter had several goals for his Academy; the promotion of 
the Russian language was not one of them. Russian was not treated as 
a medium of scholarly discourse. The official language of publication 
was Latin — imported into Russia specifically to be used for science, as 
there was no domestic Catholic religious tradition preceding it — at the 
very moment when the dominance of this language was slipping among 
European scholars. Mathematician Christian Goldbach was appointed 
Secretary of the Academic Conference explicitly because of his com- 
mand of the language, although German and French often slipped into 
the minutes and, given the Central European origin of most of the aca- 
demicians, German was the language of conversation. Latin remained 
obligatory for the presentation of treatises, a source of constant irrita- 
tion. Not all appointees to the presidency of the Academy, a patronage 
position, understood Latin. In 1734, the notoriously pro-German Em- 
press Anna selected Baron Korfl for the post, but he knew almost no 
Latin so minutes were kept in German. Count Razumovskii’s accession 



in 1742 brought Latin back, but Count Orlov’s appointment in 1766 en- 
tailed the return of German, citing Korff as precedent. (In 1773, every- 
one gave up, and the minutes were taken in French.) As if this were not 
confusing enough, Russian was obligatory for all administration, ne- 
cessitating translation to and from German when communicating with 
academicians, most of whom knew little or no Russian. 14 

Latin remained the biggest stumbling block. The Academy was ac- 
companied by a gymnasium , intended to train domestic pupils to be- 
come the next generation of technical specialists. It was deemed essen- 
tial that they learn Latin, but Russians lacked pedagogical texts in their 
native tongue and no one believed the market was large enough to cre- 
ate a Russian textbook, so Russophone students needed to first master 
German and then learn Latin through that language. This gave native 
speakers of German (mostly from the Baltic region) a major advantage. 
While they graduated from Latin in roughly three years, it took Russian 
students up to fifteen to complete the same course. 15 Latin continued 
to be seen as a force retarding Russian advancement, and Nikolai Po- 
povskii, rector of th e. gymnasium at the newly established University of 
Moscow, conducted his lectures entirely in Russian specifically to con- 
test the monopoly of this foreign language. 16 It took a while to catch up. 
It was not until October 1859, in fact, that Heinrich Lenz, dean of the 
physico -mathematical faculty of St. Petersburg University — and clearly 
of German ancestry himself — felt emboldened to petition his supervis- 
ing ministry: “[T]he Faculty finds that from nowon, there is decisively 
no need in particular instruction in the Latin language in the category 
of the natural sciences.”* 17 

As the sciences were beginning to move toward Russian as a lan- 
guage of communication within Russia, the nature of Russian itself was 
changing radically. Beginning in the middle of the eighteenth century 
with the writings of the first ethnic Russian member of the Academy 
of Sciences — poet, chemist, and polymath Mikhail Lomonosov (1711- 
1765) — one of the most momentous transformations in the history of 
Russian took place, gradually reforming not just the vocabulary but 
even the syntax and word order of Russian to resemble Western Euro- 
pean languages, especially French. 18 By the early nineteenth century, 
a modern Russian entirely intelligible to a speaker of today’s language 

*“to OaKyAbTeT HaxoAHT, hto BnpeAb, b oco6eHHOM npenoAaBaHHH AaTHHCKoro 
ji3biKa b pa3p^Ae ecTecTBeHHbix HayKHe HMeeTca peniHTeAbHO HHKaKOH HaAo6HOCTH.” 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 


had emerged, and alongside it a scientific style shaped by libraries full 
of foreign texts . 19 But Russian scientists still needed a language to com- 
municate with Western academicians, and Latin was no longer work- 
able. The solution had to be something contemporary, and the obvious 
choice seemed to be German. 

The Universal Language of the Slavs 

A commonplace about Russian culture in the nineteenth century has 
it that the elite all spoke French. Like many commonplaces, this is not 
false, but it obscures the important role of German for learned conver- 
sation, especially in scientific circles. One obvious reason for this was 
the presence of large numbers of Russian subjects who were native Ger- 
man speakers among the bureaucratic and academic elite. 20 Last chapter 
we already met Friedrich Konrad Beilstein, born in St. Petersburg and 
fluent in both Russian and German. Among friends or at home, he pre- 
ferred German. 21 Oral German was not confined to private settings. In 
1854, Carl Julius Fritzsche, a German-born chemist who since the 1830s 
had been a mainstay of academic culture in St. Petersburg and used Rus- 
sian with ease, volunteered to give a series of charity lectures on chem- 
istry to raise funds for the Crimean War; his Russian-language petition 
to the state specified that the lectures would be in German, presumably 
to bring in a greater audience. 22 

The eclipse of Russian within the Empire was particularly acute in 
the Baltic regions. Karl Klaus, professor of chemistry at the German- 
language University of Dorpat (today, Tartu in Estonia), felt con- 
strained to correspond with Aleksandr Butlerov in German. (Regret- 
tably, the only versions of these letters I could locate were in Russian 
translation, so that is what is reproduced in the footnotes.) “As you see, 
I wanted to write you in Russian and would have done so, of course, in 
case of necessity,” he wrote in 1853, “because here, in Dorpat, I risk com- 
pletely forgetting that little of the Russian language that I learned by 
the sweat of my brow; however, in view of the fact that you understand 
German as well as you do your native language, I will write to you in 
German on this occasion in order not to waste excess time.”* 23 (In later 

*“Kaic BHAHTe, si xotca HairacaTb BaM no-pyccKH h CAeAaA 6m 3to, kohchho, b CAynae 
HeMHoroe H3 pyccKoro H3biKa, hto si BbiyHHA b noTe AHii,a cBoero; OAHaico BBHAy toto, 



letters he did write in Russian, both to please Butlerov and because “the 
Russian language is more pleasant for friendly relations.”* 24 ) Butlerov 
had written to see if he could defend his dissertation at Dorpat — such 
venue-shopping was common practice among Russian scientists — but 
Klaus informed him that this would be impossible, for “none of the 
members of the department would be able either to read your disserta- 
tion, or conduct a disputation with you, since none of them commands 
the Russian language. [. . .] You would have to translate your dissertation 
or have it translated into German or French and conduct the disputa- 
tion either in German or in French.” 1 25 This was at a leading institution 
in the Russian Empire. 

Nontheless, the main advocates of the use of German turned out to 
be not Baltic Germans but Russians themselves, especially when speak- 
ing with non-Russian Slavs. For example, as Dmitrii Mendeleev’s close 
friend and Petersburg University geologist Aleksandr Inostrantsev re- 
called about his time abroad in Prague: 

In the evenings my wife and I usually went to dine and observe cer- 
tain “Slavonic Evenings,” as they were called at that time. Sometimes 
an especial interest was presented here when, after dinner, around 
a mug of beer, a general conversation began, and sometimes even 
speeches, although these were difficult for us to understand due to 
our poor knowledge of the Czech language. To acquaint us with 
these conversations and speeches the masters of ceremonies of this 
club introduced us to two young people, Vanzura and Patera, who 
spoke Russian not badly, and when they were absent it was neces- 
sary sometimes to speak with your neighbor in, as one ironically 
says, the common Slavic language, i.e., in German. 4 26 

HTO Bbl nOHHMaeTe HeMeiJKHH H3bIK TaK >Ke xopoino, KaK H CBOH pOAHOH H3bIK, Si Ha 
3tot pa3, hto6m He TpaTHTb AHHiHero BpeMeHH, 6yAy nncaTb k BaM no — HeMei^KH.” 

^“hhkto H3 HAeHOB c|)aKyAbTeTa He cmot 6bi hh nponecTb Bamy AuccepTai^Hio, hh 
BecTH c BaMH A^cnyT, nocKOAMcy hhkto H3 hhx He BAaAeeT pyccKHM h3mkom.[. . .] 
BaM npHAeTca nepeBecra hah a^tb nepeBecra Bamy AHCcepTai^Hio Ha HeMeu,KHH hah 
4>paHijy3CKHH H3WK h BecTH AncnyT ah6o no— HeMeu,KH, ah6o no-<j>paHijy3CKH.” 
*“no BenepaM mm c ^ceHoio o6biKHOBeHHO xoahah yaomaTb h noBHAaTb HeKOTOpbix 
b Tax Ha3MBaeMyio b to BpeMH « C AaBHHCKyio 6eceAy». Oco6eHHbiH HHTepec HHorAa 
npeACTaBAHAO 3Aecb to, hto nocAe y^KHHa, 3a KpyacKOH nHBa, HanHHaAH o6uj,hh 
pa3TOBOp, a HHorAa h penn, xoth h^mh h TpyAHO noHHMaeMbie b CHAy nAoxoro 3HaHHH 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 


Likewise, in 1867 Aleksandr Borodin, who taught chemistry at the 
Medico-Surgical Academy not far from Inostrantsev, wrote to his musi- 
cal patron Milii Balakirev atop a manuscript of some Czech musical 
themes: “I gave the title in German, since in general the German lan- 
guage is for Slavs the international language. I am convinced of this 
every day, sitting in Petersburg. Not long ago I had a conversation with 
a Czech in German[. . .].”* 2, The tone is ironic, but it speaks to a deeply 
lived reality. The situation extended beyond Slavs. In 1902, Nikolai 
Menshutkin, secretary of the Russian Chemical Society, boasted that 
at a meeting of “northern” (read: Scandinavian) scientists and physi- 
cians in Helsinki — at that time part of the Russian Empire — roughly 
20% of the thousand attendees were Russians, heavily concentrated in 
the chemistry section. The prominence of Russians made the Scandina- 
vians relent in their habit of using Swedish or Danish, forcing all papers 
in chemistry to be delivered either in German or with German sum- 
maries. 28 Russian chemists, when abroad, were Germanophone. 

Menshutkin’s glee gives the impression that German was almost sec- 
ond nature, and they could alternate with ease between their “interna- 
tional language” and their native one. Countless asides in correspon- 
dence and memoirs attest, however, as physiologist Ivan Sechenov 
noted in his autobiography, that “[ijgnorance of languages among the 
majority of our students represents a great misfortune.” 129 Attentive 
professors sometimes resorted to extreme measures to get their stu- 
dents up to linguistic speed. For example, as chemist Ivan Kablukov re- 
called about an interchange with his teacher, Moscow professor Vladi- 
mir Markovnikov: 

I went to V. V. Markovnikov and asked: 

— How am I supposed to study organic chemistry? 

He said: 

nemcKoro £3bnca. 3HaKOMCTBa c sthmh pa3roBopaMH h penaMH pacnopiiAHTeAH 
3Toro KAy6a no3HaicoMHAH Hac c AsyMii moaoammh ak>ai>mh, BamKypoH h IlaTepoH, 
rOBOpHTb C COCeAOM, KaK HpOHHHHO TOBOpilT, Ha o6meCAaBiIHCKOM -H3bIKe, T.e. no- 

*“3arAaBHe si AaA HeMei^Koe, Tax KaK Boo6in;e HeMeijKHH £3biK a ah CAaB^iH ecTb 
Me^KAyHapoAHMH ^3biK. il b 3tom y6e>KAaiocb Ka>KAbiH A eH b, cha si b IIeTep6ypre. 
HeAaBHO si 6eceAOBaA c oahhm nexoM Ha HeMeu,KOM H3biKe[. . 

+ “He3HaHHe A3biKOB y 6oAbiiiHHCTBa HaniHX CTyACHTOB npeACTaBA_aeT 6oAbmoe 3 ao.” 



— Prepare ethyl acetoacetate. 

— And how should I prepare it? 

— Take the German journal Liebigs Annalen der Chemie and 
read about it there. 

I didn’t know German. One could either take the French or the 
German track in the gymnasium. I took the French. What to do? I 
took the article, took a dictionary, and began to read. In the end, it is 
impossible to recommend this method, which is of course very dif- 
ficult, but sometimes it works. 

I read everything, prepared ethyl acetoacetate, and this was the 
spur to further research.* 30 

Markovnikov himself had difficulties with German. Upon arriving in 
Berlin, he looked around and discovered, as if it were a surprise, “to 
my displeasure here they speak German, and you know how weak I am 
in this language.” 1 31 The solution? “With chemists I conversed here in 
French because,” he wrote to his advisor Butlerov, “having begun with 
[Adolf von] Baeyer in German, soon was obliged to shut my trap.” t32 
Letters transmitting self-translated articles almost always contained a 
statement to this effect: “At the conclusion of my writing I find myself 
obliged to ask your forgiveness in a possibly too clumsy handling of the 
German language.” 5 33 (The original German is equivalently awkward.) 

*“npmiieA si k B. B. MapKOBHHKOBy, h cnpamHBaio: 


Oh roBopHT: 

npHTOTOBbTe aU,eTOyKCyCHbIH 3(})Hp. 

— A KaK ero npHTOTOBHT? 

— Bo3bMHTe HeMeijKHH 5KypHaA « Liebig’s Annalen der Chemie » h npoHTHTe TaM 
06 3TOM. 

>1 HeMeU,KOrO H3bIKa He 3HaA. B rHMHa3HH MOJKHO 6bIAO npOXOAHTb HAH <j)paH- 
Uy3CKHH, HAH HeMeU,KHH. npOXOAHA (J)paHD;y3CKHH. KaK >Ke 6bITb? A B3.HA CTaTbK), 
TpyAeH, peKOMeHAOBaTb ero HeAb3H, ho, hhoh pa3, npHXOAHTC^. 

% Bee npOHeA, npHrOTOBHA aU,eTOyKCyCHbIH 3 (|>Hp, H 3TO ^BHAOCb TOAHKOM K 
AaAbHenmeMy HCCAeAOBaHHio.” 

+ “ho Ha Moe HecnacTbe 3Aecb roBopBT no— HeMen,KH, a Bbi 3HaeTe, KaK si CAa 6 b stom 

^“C XHMHKaMH si o6i>sicHsnocb 3Aecb no-<j)paHuy3CKH, h 6 o, HanaB c BanepoM no- 
HeMeu,KH, BCKOpe npHHy>KAeH 6 bia 3aAaTb CTOAbH^Ka.” 

^“Zum Schlusse meines Schreibens finde ich mich genothigt Sie um eine Entschul- 
digung in einer vielleicht zu sehr umstandlichen Behandlung der deutschen Sprache 
zu bitten.” 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 9 1 

Dmitrii Mendeleev — erstwhile victim of translation mistakes — 
found himself similarly incapacitated both in speech and in writing, 
notwithstanding two years spent living in Western Europe (1859-1861) 
and enormous quantities of foreign books kept in his library. 34 While 
in Heidelberg, he relied on a Russian named Baksht to translate his 
articles into German; in conversation, he muddled through or resorted 
to halting French. 35 This barrier was most inconvenient in personal cor- 
respondence, where the intimacy of the medium placed the burden of 
composition entirely on his own shoulders. When writing to Wilhelm 
Ostwald, then at Leipzig but by birth a Baltic German subject of the 
Tsar, he could resort to his native language: “I write in Russian because 
I want to answer quickly and translation is a lengthy affair.”* 36 But most 
German professors did not know the language, and so when he had no 
amanuensis he had to inflict broken German, full of Russianisms and 
misspellings, on his interlocutor. Writing to August Kekule from his 
dacha in Boblovo, he lamented: “In the countryside, where I now live, 
no one knows German and you know how weak I myself am in this lan- 
guage. I want however to try to relate to you everything that is impor- 
tant concerning my views about the constitution of Benzol — according 
to my opinion.” 4 He concluded with an obligatory apology: “Forgive 
me my German. From Petersburg I would be able to write better — here 
is by me no person, also no dictionary.” 4 37 He was no more comfortable 
with Erlenmeyer, whom he had known for years: 

Ooof ! I have finished. I understand nothing and believe that you 
cannot understand my letter any more. 

If my letter actually remains not understood, then I write French. 

I can certainly find a translator, but in so delicate [a] business I want 
to involve nobody else. 4 38 

*“IlHmy no-pyccKH, noTOMy hto >KeAaio otbcthtb HeMeAAH, a nepeBOA — a^ao 

^“Im Dorf, wo ich wohne, kein Mensch kennt deutsch und Sie wissen wie schwach 
bin ich selbst in diese Sprache. Ich will doch probiren Ihnen zu erzeilen beziiglich 
meine Ansichten iiber d. Constitution v[on] Benzol alles was ist die wichtigste — 
nach meine Meinung.” 

*“Entschuldigen Sie mir meine deutsche Sprache. Von Petersburg ich mogte besser 
schreiben — hier ist bei mir keine Mensch, doch keine Dictioner.” 

*“Uf! Ich habe geendet. Ich verstehe nichts und glaube, dass Sie konen von meine 
Brief nicht mehr verstehen. 

Wenn wirklich mein Brief bleibt unverstanden, dann schreibe ich franzosisch. Ich 

9 2 


His German was pretty good compared with his English. He was 
able to read the language and often referred to British articles, but of 
the three dominant languages of science, this was by far his weakest. 
When he gave a prestigious Faraday Lecture in London in 1889 — on 
links between the periodic law and Isaac Newton’s laws — he was in- 
vited to write his address in Russian. It was then translated into En- 
glish by Vassili Ivanovich Anderson, chair of the Mechanical Section of 
the British Association for the Advancement of Science, who had been 
born and educated in St. Petersburg. That text was read at the meeting 
by Sir James Dewar; Mendeleev sat on the dais. 39 The page proofs for 
the published version of the lecture arrived to him at Boblovo, but all 
of his peers had dispersed to their summer addresses. He delegated the 
corrections to his colleague Menshutkin, seemingly comfortable in all 
languages of the triumvirate: “I received from Prof. [Henry] Armstrong 
the attached proofs of an article about the periodic law[. . .]. You know 
that I cannot command the details of the English language, and there- 
fore I resolved to ask you to read through and correct it wherever you 
consider it appropriate.”* 40 

Mendeleev’s struggles with English paled in comparison with the 
troubles Englishmen had reading his Russian. Some British chemists 
had indeed studied the language. Alexander Crum Brown, one of the 
architects of structure theory in organic chemistry, wrote Mendeleev 
in much excitement about the latter’s imminent arrival in Edinburgh in 
1884. “As far as language is concerned, I speak German — not well, but 
all the same entirely comprehensibly — and French only with the great- 
est difficulties. I even had certain successes in reading Russian. Butlerov 
sent me already a long time ago his ‘Introduction to a Complete Study 
of Organic Chemistry,’ and I read rather a lot from it before the German 
edition appeared,” he wrote. “I also have your ‘Principles of Chemistry,’ 
and I also read something from it. But I am afraid that we will depend 
on German and French in our conversations, because I am sure that 

kann gewiss ein Ubersatzer finden, aber in so delicate Geschichte will ich niemand 
andere hernehmen.” 

*“h noAyHHA ot npocj). ApMCTpoHra npHAaraeMyio KoppeKTypy CTaTbH o nepHOAH- 
necKOM 3aKOHe[. . .]. Bw 3HaeTe, hto a He Mory BAaACTb noApobHOCTHMH aHrAHHCKoro 
ii3biica, h noTOMy pemaiocb npocHTb Bac nponecTb h HcnpaBHTb, hto rAe coHTeTe 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 9 3 

you are much better acquainted with the English language than I with 
Russian.”* 41 

The case of fellow Scottish chemist William Ramsay was, however, 
more typical. Ramsay was solidly working through the literature on 
atmospheric gases — he would receive the 1904 Nobel prize in chemis- 
try for his discovery of the inert gases — and he came across some refer- 
ences to Mendeleev’s volume of studies on the topic, On the Expansion 
of Gases, published in 1875. They met at the Faraday Lecture and the 
topic had come up (presumably in German), so Ramsay wrote to fol- 
low up, explicitly stating that he wrote in German because it was likely 
the best common tongue. 42 In the next missive, Ramsay thanked Men- 
deleev for the book, with sadness noting the tome’s impenetrable lan- 
guage. “It will be for me hard work to read the book, but I want to try,” 
he wrote in German. “With the help of a dictionary and a grammar, I 
hope in any event to be able to spell out the sense.” 143 It seems he did 
not get terribly far, for in 1892 he wrote Mendeleev on the same theme, 
this time in French: “Does your memoire exist only in the Russian lan- 
guage? Or could one find a translation, or even an abstract, in some 
Western journal ?” + 44 No such luck. Ramsay observed that “I see in the 
text some numbers which guide me, and I will do my best to understand 
your beautiful work.” 545 The unity of notation, mathematical formu- 
las, and scientific nomenclature — albeit in Cyrillic — surely made the 
task easier. Such interchangeability of nomenclature, however, was not 
easily achieved. 

*“Hto KacaeToi H3biica, to a roBopio no-HeMeu,KH — He xoporno, ho Bee >Ke coBceM 
nOHHTHO, nO-<j)paHIjy3CKH 2Ke C 6oAbIHHMH 3aTpyAHeHHHMH. il A^5Ke CAeAaA HeKO- 
Topwe ycnexH b htchhh no-pyccKH. EyTAepoB npHCAaA MHe yace a^bho CBoe «BBe- 
AeHHe k noAHOMy H3yHeHHio opraHHHecKOH xhmhh», h si nponeA OTTyAa aoboabho 
mhoto, npeacAe HeM noHBHAoeb HeMeu,Koe H3AaHHe. Y Mena HMeeTca Taicace Banm 
3aBHceTb ot HeMeijKoro h <J)paHuy3CKoro ii3biica npH HarnHX pa3roBopax, noTOMy hto 
Si yBepeH, HTO Bbl 3aHKOMbI C aHrAHHCKHM H3bIKOM TOpa3AO AyHHie, HeM Si pyCCKHM.” 

+ “Es wird fiir mich eine schwere Arbeit sein das Buch zu lesen, doch will ich es ver- 
suchen. Mit Hilfe eines Dictionars und eines Grammatiks, hoffe ich jedenfalls die 
Sinne heraus buchstabieren zu konnen.” 

*“Est ce que votre memoire n’existe que dans la langue ruse? ou peut on trouver une 
traduction, ou bien un resume dans quelque journal occidental?” 

^“je vois dans la texte des chifFres qui me dirigent, et je ferai mon mieux de compren- 
dre votre belle ouvrage.” 



Chemical Name-Calling 

In 1870, surely one of the most unusual proposals in the history of 
chemical nomenclature was put forth in the minutes of the Russian 
Chemical Society. N. A. Liasovskii (a chemist of no lasting reputation 
or legacy) suggested that Russians should change their naming conven- 
tions of chemical compounds to feature “combinations of the sort of 
the Russian patronymics and family names ; for example, for potassium 
chloride [KC 1 2 ] to adopt the name potassium chlorovich or potassium 
chlorov, for potassium hypochlorite [KOC 1 ] potassium chlorovich aci- 
dov or potassium chloro-acidov, for potassium chlorate [KC 10 3 ] potas- 
sium chlorovich three acidov or potassium chloro-three-acidov .” The idea 
was to use the resources built into the Russian language to open up 
conceptual possibilities closed to the Germans and French. “Upon the 
introduction of numbers for several valencies into such names,” he con- 
tinued, such procedures “present the advantage of very simple transmis- 
sion of formulas into names, constructable in the same order in which 
the elements enter into formulas, therefore the combinations, similar to 
those generally deployed in the Russian language, could be easily assimi- 
lated.”* 46 Of course there were also drawbacks. Liasovskii noted that 
this convention would produce almost identical names for salts and 
acids — rather important concepts to distinguish. He did not dwell on 
the rather more obvious disadvantage: this system was unintelligible to 
European chemists; even if they could read Russian, it would not trans- 
late. The proposal dropped like a stone. In trying to be more “natural” 
to Russian itself, Liasovskii’s system was the wrong kind of artificial. 

All chemical nomenclatures are artificial. Noted Danish linguist 
Otto Jespersen observed in 1929 that “ [i]f you look through a list of 
chemical elements you will find a curious jumble of words of different 
kinds.” To select just English, you note quite ancient traditional words, 
such as gold or iron; such metals were named so long ago that just about 
every language has its own idiosyncratic terms for them {Gold, Eisen-, 




BbiroAy BecbMa actkoh nepeAaHH <j>opMyA b Ha3BaHHH, cocTaBAHeMbie b tom nee no- 
pHAKe, B KaKOM 3AeMeHTbI BXOA^T B (})OpMyAbI, npHHCM COHeTaHHH, nOAo6Hbie o6m,e- 
ynoTpe6nTeAbHbiM b pyccKOM H3WKe, MoryT AerKO ycBOHBaTbCH.” 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 


or,fer\ 30aoto /zoloto, >k e a t?,o/zbelezo). Then, there were words derived 
from Greek or Latin roots, such as the oxygen that Lavoisier coined. 
(The Germans rejected this term, preferring to caique it as Sauerstoff, 
acid substance.) Finally, Jespersen noted, a consensus solidified around 
the suffix -ium, although even here the stem could be derived from a 
place (ytterbium), a country (germanium), a planet (selenium), and so 
on. 47 And that was just for the elements. When considering the many 
categories of compounds that populate organic chemistry (esters, ke- 
tones), the situation was still more fraught. 

Chemical nomenclature must be artificial. New substances are con- 
stantly being discovered or created, and it is impossible to provide a fi- 
nite list of names, or rules for naming, to cover all eventualities. On the 
other hand, random naming won’t do. How would a student learn the 
order that underlay chemical transformations ? And then how would 
you translate your findings for international chemists, the only group 
that could vouchsafe the validity of your knowledge claims ? Liasov- 
skii’s system was as perplexing to his peers as to us today, because it 
moved away from intertranslatability with European nomenclatures, 
and today chemists have delegated the rights of naming — within cer- 
tain strict parameters — to the discoverer as determined by the Inter- 
national Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which we 
shall encounter in chapter 6 . So, while each language generally retains 
traditional words for traditional elements (such as the metals gold and 
mercury), international scientists have resolved the fundamental prob- 
lem of naming through convention, coordinated by institutions. In the 
latter half of the nineteenth century, however, these institutions did not 
yet exist. In the realm of chemical naming, the Russians were not at 
all “backward” with respect to Western Europe — they embarked on a 
modern nomenclature in lockstep with their international peers, and 
they faced the same frustrations. 

Aside from the traditional metals (like copper) and other substances 
common among apothecaries and metallurgists (like sulfur), chemical 
nomenclature in Russian remained decidedly spartan until the end of 
the eighteenth century. This is hardly surprising: if even the Academy 
of Sciences refused to use Russian in their treatises, where would the de- 
mand for Russian names come from? By the 1770s, however, university 
courses began to use Russian, and theoretical chemical works started 
appearing in Russian translation. In order to teach those courses and 
translate those books, Russian scientists began to debate and develop a 
nomenclature suited for Russian. The importance of suitability is some- 



times lost on English speakers. In English, copper can be either a noun 
or an adjective (as it is in copper sulfate). But in French or Russian, one 
cannot simply use a noun as an adjective without any morphological 
tinkering — one either has to introduce a preposition (sulfate of cop- 
per) or add a suffix that turns the root into an adjective. (German help- 
fully allows Kupfersulfat .) But which suffix to use ? Arguments about the 
choices battered Russian chemistry for over a century: pick the right 
one, and you had a neat system that eased education and theorizing; opt 
for the wrong one, and you generated an unholy mess. 

The 1770s was an excellent moment for Russians to begin searching 
for an inorganic nomenclature, because this was precisely the moment 
that Lavoisier and his colleagues began to overhaul the entire system of 
French names — and, by knock-on effect, German and English names. 
Russians had access to these books either in the original or in translation 
comparatively rapidly; between 1772 and 1801, twelve translated books 
on the new chemistry appeared. Fedor Politkovskii, fresh from a two- 
year trip to Paris, lectured on the subject in 1783 in Moscow. If scholars 
were prepared to read French — and who wasn’t ? — the Academy library 
also had a copy of Lavoisier’s Opuscles physiques etchimiques, sent by the 
author himself in 1774. German commentaries followed, and by 1801 
almost the entire (very small) Russian chemical community was com- 
mitted to Lavoisier’s new chemistry. 48 They only needed to figure out 
how to talk about it. 

As noted in 1870 by Fedor Savchenkov before the Russian Chemi- 
cal Society in one of the occasional debates about chemical nomencla- 
ture, the dawn of the nineteenth century saw “a rather close transla- 
tion of French names, introduced on the basis of principles adopted 
in the nomenclature.”* 49 But the perception that Russians were simply 
mimicking the French was more a surface appearance. In an 1810 article 
on Lavoisier’s principles, academician Iakov Zakharov had cautioned 
against the French system: “The French naming system is now adopted 
in all of Europe. Languages that for the most part or in entirety de- 
scend from Latin had no difficulties at all in introducing the very same 
words into their languages, it was only necessary to substitute the final 
syllable for one appropriate to the properties of that language.” That in- 
cluded the Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, and even the English. But 
“[t]he Russian language with all of its branches has a completely dif- 

*“AOBOAbHO 6aH3KHH liepi’BOA <|>paHi;y3CKHX H<13B<1HHH. BBeAeHHbIX Ha OCHOBaHHH 
HanaA b HOMeHKAaType.” 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 


ferent quality, just as do German and others.”* The Germans adapted 
the French system to their language, and “we should also follow this ex- 
ample.’^ 50 He went on to develop an integrated system that used native 
Slavonic prefixes ( pere -, do-) to mark levels of oxidation. In the end, 
what was happening was a greater convergence of nomenclatures syn- 
tactically, even as they differed lexically. 

By 1836, Academician Hermann Hess articulated a synthetic version 
of these earlier proposals, and his framework has survived mostly un- 
changed down to the present. 51 Although the essentials of inorganic 
nomenclature were established early enough, it was not until 1912 that 
the Russian Chemical Society officially sanctioned this system. The delay 
was in part because of the vexed nomenclature of organic compounds. 
After the introduction of the structure theory of organic molecules in 
the 1860s, the field boomed, and chemical periodicals announced the 
discovery of hundreds, even thousands, of new compounds, byprod- 
ucts of the new pharmaceutical and artificial dyestuffs industries. The 
problem of arbitrary, individualized naming beset Western Europeans 
as well. Eminent British chemist Edward Frankland complained that 
“[ejvery young chemist here seems to think that he does something 
both highly important and original, if he can invent some slight modi- 
fication in the nomenclature of chemical compounds. Hence in the 
place of the tolerably uniform old system of names, all sorts of systems 
and various have sprung into existence, and all uniformity has been lost. 
Much the same state of things appears now to prevail in Germany where 
the language also lends itself much less readily to the new system.” 52 The 
situation continued to deteriorate into the late 1880s and early 1890s, 
when Alsatian chemist Charles Friedel convened a group of chemists in 
Geneva to develop a new international nomenclature to tame the new 
compounds. 53 

As far as the Russians were concerned, “international” meant a club 
of British, French, and Germans. The only Russian involved in the dis- 
cussions was Friedrich Beilstein, and many Petersburgers were not will- 

*“OpaHU,y3CKoe HM.H3HaHeHHe npHHHTO Hbme bo Been EBpone. -H3 mkh, koh no 
6oAbmen nacTH hah co bccm ot AaTHHCKoro npoHcxoA^T, He hmcah HHKaKoro 
3aTpyAHeHHH bbccth Te >xe caMbie CAOBa b hx H3biK, HyacHO 6 mao TOAbKO nepeMeHHTb 
OKOHnaTeAbHbiH CAor CBOHCTBy Toro H3biKa npHAHHHOH.[. . .] Co BceM Apyroe 
KanecTBO HMeeT H3biK Pochhhckoh co bccmh ero OTpacAHMH, paBHO Rax HeMen,xoH 
h Apyrne.” 

* “CeMy npHMepy aoajkhw nocAeAOBaTb h mm.” 


ing to consider him truly “Russian .” 54 On 8 October 1892 (Old Style 
[O.S.] date), the Russian Chemical Society held an inconclusive discus- 
sion about the new proposals. Beilstein encouraged chemists to adapt 
to the new regulations, which would standardize European chemi- 
cal publishing; by no means was it intended to change daily practice: 
“No one imagines eliminating the old names, nor introducing the new 
nomenclature into conversational language.”* A purely written con- 
vention? Mendeleev would have none of it, declaring “that only a lan- 
guage that has worked itself out historically is a living language. Such 
is the natural, international language of chemistry — the language of 
formulas. Translation of the language of formulas to oral and written 
speech is a difficult affair, and it is doubtful that, given the large num- 
ber of words necessary for this, new names might summon up exem- 
plary notions and therefore would be appropriate for oral and written 
speech .” 4 (Of course, formula- writing was also a convention, and a rela- 
tively recent one at that.) In the end, Nikolai Menshutkin postponed 
any decisions . 55 Like inorganic nomenclature, the issue remained un- 
resolved for decades. Intertranslatability among European chemistries 
reached its height not in grand theoretical debates over naming conven- 
tions, but in mundane textbooks. 

Translating Textbooks 

Russian chemists could find a reasonable amount of textbook litera- 
ture in their native language as they entered the 1860s. It was not, how- 
ever, originally Russian. The first chemical textbook composed in Rus- 
sian was the Handbook to the Teaching of Chemistry ( Rukovodstvo po 
prepodavaniiu khimii ), published in two parts in 1808, and mainly di- 
rected to doctors, teachers, and mining officials. From then until the 
1830s there was essentially no good chemistry textbook in Russian until 
Hermann Hess obliged with his Foundations of Pure Chemistry ( Osno - 
vanie chistoi khimii ) in 1831. 56 The demand for these books was rela- 

HOMeHKAaTypy B pa3TOBOpHbIH H3bIK.” 


TBeHHblH, Me^KAyHapOAHblH H3bIK XHMHH H3bIK (J)OpMyA. IlepeBOA 2Ke R3bIKa (j)OpMyA 

Ha ycTHyio h nHCbMeHHyio penb — a^ao TpyAHoe h coMHHTeAbHO, hto 6 npH 6oAbmoM 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 


tively small, and they were quickly outdated by the pace of theoretical 
and empirical advances. Most of the chemical literature, as in the age of 
Peter the Great, was translated from the West. Especially popular was 
the Schule der Chemie by Julius Adolph Stockhardt (in Russian, Shtek- 
gardt), which came out in three editions in 1859, 1862, and 1867. 5 ' The 
flow of chemical textbooks was most decisively into Russian — and cer- 
tainly never back into German. 

Until 1868, that is, when Aleksandr Butlerov’s Introduction to a Com- 
plete Study of Organic Chemistry, originally published in 1864, appeared 
in German translation and made quite an impact on theorizing in the 
metropole of organic chemistry. This was an unusual course of events, 
and its origins lay in Kazan, where Butlerov diligently taught organic 
chemistry to all levels of university students. Butlerov had experience 
with translated textbooks, and in his own classes he used a translation 
of Carl Gotthelf Lehmann’s Handbuch derphysiologischen Chemie, sup- 
plemented by lectures based on Justus von Liebig’s organic chemistry 
text, which he used in German (for it had not been translated into Rus- 
sian). 58 In the late 1850s, Butlerov began diverging from the extant text- 
books, developing his own notes into a fuller presentation of organic 
chemistry with a new set of foundational principles. 

We now call this framework “structure theory” and it is based on 
the concept of tetravalent carbon and mutually bonded carbon chains. 
Credit for it is usually assigned to August Kekule, although there are 
many other claimants — including Butlerov. 59 The latter began to fully 
formulate his theory only while on a trip abroad in 1861, and he began 
to test his theories in his lectures in 1861-1862, from which regrettably 
no lecture notes survive. In any event, he could not have given the full 
course of lectures, since Russian universities were closed for the second 
half of that academic year owing to student unrest, and Butlerov himself 
fell ill. Lecture notes do survive from the 1862-1863 course, and from 
these it is clear that Butlerov thought of his project as the composition 
of an introductory textbook, but one that would reformulate the fun- 
damental principles of organic chemistry — a reasonable strategy in an 
age when original findings and theoretical innovations were quite often 
first introduced in textbooks. 60 

This Introduction was published — as with much European publish- 
ing of that day — in several separate fascicles, dated January 1864, May 
1865, and October 1866, at which point it was also released as a single 
bound volume. The first fascicle closely resembled the lecture course 
from 1862-1863 and concerned the general theoretical picture; the 



later fascicles discussed empirical data, made predictions for new ex- 
periments, and discussed applications. The book was an immediate sen- 
sation among Russian chemists, and they had substantial difficulties 
securing copies not only in secondary cities like Kiev and Kharkov, but 
in St. Petersburg itself. 

As Russophone chemists came to appreciate what Butlerov had ac- 
complished, they continually implored him to think about a broader 
audience. For example, Karl Schmidt, a chemist at Dorpat University, 
wrote to Butlerov (in German, although regrettably I could find only a 
Russian edition of it) urging translation. “With the publication of this 
book for the West in German or French you will earn the gratitude of 
many young chemists,” he enthused. “You write so well that for you it 
does not comprise any work at all and considering that this subject sum- 
mons widespread interest, it will be easy to find a publisher. I am con- 
vinced that many of our Western colleagues, like me, ivould meet your 
work with joy and gratitude, if they could read it freely [. . .].”* 61 Schmidt 
at least could manage with the Russian; Western Europeans could not. 
Adolphe Wurtz in Paris wrote to Butlerov in 1864 that he was looking 
forward to receiving the book: “In this case I would find your work on 
my return and if only it were not written in Russian, I would read it 
with the interest deserved by that which leaves your pen.” t62 Likewise, 
August Hofmann, the dean of Berlin chemistry, lamented to Markov- 
nikov upon receiving from him a copy of the Russian edition that he 
was unable to read it. 63 Even Petr Alekseev, a chemist in Kiev, decried 
the ghetto of the Russian language: “And I am very, very sorry that your 
essay is not printed in a single foreign language.” 4 64 

Finding a publisher for the German translation was not as easy as 
Schmidt had surmised. As Butlerov complained to Emil Erlenmeyer: 
“What concerns the publication of my ‘Introduction’ in German, I 
am very little to blame that it is not yet done. I could not find a pub- 

*“H3AaHHeM stoh khheh aah 3ana/s,a Ha HeMeuKOM hah cj)paHuy3CKOM ^3biKe Bw 
3acAy>KHTe dAaroAapHOCTb MHornx moaoawx xhmhkob[. . .]. Bbi immeTe TaKxopomo, 
hto aa x. Bac 3 to He cocTaBHT HHKaKoro TpyAa h, yHHTWBaR, hto npeAMeT stot bm 3- 
MBaeT BcecTopoHHHH HHTepec, AerKO HaHTH H3AaTeA_H. A y6e5KAeH, hto MHorne 
HaniH 3anaAHwe KOAAern, hoao6ho MHe, bctpcthah 6m Barny pa6oTy c paAocrtw h 
npH3HaTeAbHOCTbK), ecAH 6w ohh MorAH ee cbo6oaho nponecTb[. . 

^“Dans ce cas je tourverai votre ouvrage a mon retour et pourvu qu’il ne soit pas ecrit 
en russe, je le lirai avec l’interet que merite ce qui sort de votre plume.” 

*“H oneHb, oneHb >KaAb, hto Barne coHHHeHHe He H3AaHO hh Ha oahom HHOCTpaHHOM 


Hydrogen Oxygenovich ioi 

lisher[. . .] .”* 65 He even contemplated publishing it in France, or in Ger- 
man in St. Petersburg, while Butlerov’s student Markovnikov shuttled 
around Germany remonstrating with publishers to no avail. Reflection 
on the mechanics of the publishing industry, as provided by Nikolai 
Golovkinskii, another student emissary, explained why: 

I am doing what I can in searches for a German publisher, but I can 
only manage a little. It is difficult for a German bookseller to decide 
to publish the book of a Russian author if the local professors do not 
approve such an unusual matter. And how is one to attain the pro- 
fessors’ approval if the book is unknown to them? 1 66 

Finally, Beilstein arranged a contract with Quandt & Handel, the pub- 
lishers of his own Zeitschrift fur Chemie, and Butlerov contracted a local 
teacher in Kazan named Risch to undertake the translation. 67 Butlerov 
allowed the publishers to change the title of the book a bit to Lehrbuch 
der organischen Chemie: Zur Einfiihr ungin das specielle Studium dersel- 
ben, and the complete version appeared in 1868. Butlerov insisted that 
“German edition translated from the Russian’^ appear prominently on 
the title page. He did not want his readers to forget what language the 
original was written in. 

Risch, on the other hand, received no credit. Perhaps it had some- 
thing to do with the quality of the work? After all, as Markovnikov 
wrote to Butlerov as the book was about to appear: “Concerning the 
language of the translation, the publishers said that it is a bit heavy. On 
the other hand, the same could be said also about the original.” The 
problem was not language, but rather adapting the book to meet the 
expectations of a new audience. Markovnikov continued: “Of course, 
the latter cannot have any influence on the merit of the German edition, 
but in general it seems to me that you ought to revise your book a bit in 
order that it would meet an entirely good reception among the public 
here.[. . .] Don’t forget that your readers will be Germans, accustomed 

Was der Veroffentlichung meines ‘Einleitung’ in der deutschen Sprache betriflt, so 
bin ich sehr wenig schuld, dafS es bisher noch nicht gemacht ist. Ich konnte keinen 
Verlager findenf. . 

noHCKax H3AaTeAH HeMeu,Koro TeKcra a CAeAaio, hto Mory, ho Mory a HeMHoro. 
TpyAHO, hto6m HeMeu,KHH KHHronpoAaBeu; pemHAca H3AaTb KHHry pyccKoro aBTOpa, 
ecAH ero He OAo6p.HTb Ha TaKoe HenpHBbiHHoe a^ao MecTHbie npo<j>eccopa. A KaK 
AodbiTb 3 to OAobpeHHe npo<j>eccopoB, ecAH KHHra hm HeH3BecTHa?” 

^“aus dem russischen iibersetzte deutsche Ausgabe” 



in general to the learning of facts by heart and not to general concep- 
tions which stretch far beyond the limits of what is known.”* 68 It was 
essential, for this grandeur of vision, that Butlerov alone be the focus of 
the translation, and that meant (among other things) suppressing the 
translator’s due. 

Credit, in fact, was what this translation had always been about: 
demonstrating in German that he had published the main elements of 
structure theory at least simultaneously with Kekule, and in some cases 
earlier. It was the same path Mendeleev took in 1869 with his periodic 
system, with results that we have already witnessed — and, importantly, 
it was a path Mendeleev had not taken with his own textbook of organic 
chemistry, published in 1862 to great acclaim in St. Petersburg. Beil- 
stein, of all people, did more than anyone else to publicize this innova- 
tive textbook, the first to fully integrate “type theory” into its pedagogi- 
cal presentation. (Type theory was soon to be vanquished by structure 
theory, but Mendeleev couldn’t have known that.) Beilstein insisted 
that Erlenmeyer publish a review in the Zeitschrift fur Chemie, joking 
that “this article will especially interest the large Russian colony which 
you have set up in your house. Your laboratory is becoming as it were a 
center for the present Russian emigration.” ' 69 He summarized the book 
and laid out the scale of Mendeleev’s insights, concluding: “In Russia 
the chemical literature was constrained until now almost exclusively to 
translations of the better-known German and French works. The book 
before us deserves thus special consideration as an original work, if it 
had not already awoken our interest through its characteristic and solid 
treatment.” f 70 But, of course, no German ran out and picked up a Rus- 

BnponeM, to >Ke mo>kho CKa3aTb h o 6 opHirmaAe. Kohchho, nocAeAHee He mojkct 
BaM CAeAyeT Koe-HTO nepepa6oTaTb b Bameii KHHre ^asi toto, HTo6bi OHa BCTpeTHAa 
BnoAHe xoponiHH npHeM b 3AeniHeH ny6AHKe.[. . .] He 3a6yAbTe, hto BaniHMH 
HHTaTeAHMH 6yAyT HeMu,bi, npHBbiKHiHe Boo6me k 3a3y6pHBaHHK) <j>aKTOB, a He k 
o6ihhm coo6pa^ceHHRM, npocTHpaiomHMOl AaAeKO 3a npeAeAbi H3BecTHoro.” 
^“Vielleicht interessirt diese Abhandlung speziell die grofie russische Kolonie, die 
sich in Ihrem Hause niedergelassen hat. Ihr Laboratorium wird gewissermafien ein 
Centrum der augenblicklichen russischen Volkerwanderung.” 

*“In Russland beschrankte sich bisher die chemische Literatur fast ausschliesslich 
auf Uebersetzungen der bekannteren deutschen und franzosischen Werke. Das vor- 
liegende Buch verdient daher schon als Originalarbeit eine besondere Beriicksicht- 
igung, wenn es nicht schon durch seine eigenthiimliche und gediegene Bearbeitung 
unser Interesse erregte.” 

Hydrogen Oxygenovich 


sian grammar in order to read this book. Later, with the growing visi- 
bility of Russian chemistry due in no small part to the controversy over 
the discovery of the periodic system, certain Western chemists did in 
fact study the language enough to parse a technical article with the aid 
of a dictionary. But that had not happened yet. 

Butlerov learned the lesson. As he reflected in his own textbook, 
Mendeleev’s work, “[t]he only and excellent original Russian textbook 
of organic chemistry,” was “not widely distributed in Western Europe, 
doubtless only because it still has not found a translator.”* 71 Deploying 
the full range of resources at his disposal — the expressive scope of mod- 
ern Russian, his own excellent language skills, and an emergent inter- 
national nomenclature — Butlerov managed not only to rescue his book 
from obscurity and make a bid for priority, but also to grant a level 
of dignity for Russian publications. “From the moment of the transla- 
tion of these textbooks into foreign languages begins the reverse flow 
of chemical pedagogical literature from the East to the West,” observed 
Paul Walden, a bilingual Riga-born chemist; “Russia, which for a long 
time provided itself with translated literature from the West, now itself 
begins not only to produce its own chemical literature, but emerges 
also in the character of a competitor on the Western literary market, 
abounding with rich and excellent chemical literature.” 1 72 Markovni- 
kov beamed that Butlerov’s “articles and especially the translation of 
his book into German greatly enabled [his theory’s] assimilation and 
distribution among Western scientists.’^ 73 Adding Russian as another 
language of science — although clearly subsidiary to the triumvirate — 
seemed to benefit everyone. But how much further could one expand 
the quantity of scientific languages ? 

xhmhh MeHAeAeeBa, — yqe6HHK, He pacnpocTpaHeHHbm b 3anaAHOH EBpone, 6e3 
coMHeHM, TOAbKO noTOMy, hto aa>i Hero He HauiAocb em;e nepeBOAHHKa.” 

*“C MOMeHTa nepeBOAa sthx yne6HHKOB Ha HHOCTpaHHbie b3wkh HaHHHaeTca 
o6paTHoe TeneHHe XHMHHecKOH neAarorHHecicoH AHTepaTypw c BOCTOKa Ha 3anaA; 
Poccua, CTaAO npoAOA^KHTeAbHoe BpeMB CHa6:>KaBma.HCH nepeBOAHOH AHTepaTypoio 
c 3anaAa, Hbme caMa HaHHHaeT He TOAbKO npoH3BOAHTb co6cTBeHHyK) XHMHHecKyio 
AHTepaTypy, ho BbicTynaeT Aa>Ke b KanecTBe conepHHu,bi Ha 3anaAHOM AHTepaTypHOM 
pbiHKe, H3o6HAyioHj;eM 6oraTOH h npeBocxoAHOH xhmhhcckoh AHTepaTypoH.” 
*“cTaTbH h oco6eHHO nepeBOA ero cohhhchhb Ha HeMeu,KHH ^3biK HeMaAO cnoco- 
6cTBOBaAH ee ycBoeHHio h pacnpocTpaHeHHio Me5KAy 3anaAHbiMH yneHbiMH.” 


Speaking Utopian 

En Europo oni ordinare pensas, ke en la tuta Hinujo oni parolas nur unu 
lingvon — la hinan. Estas vero, ke la logantoj de Pekino, kiel ankau la lo- 
gantoj de Kantono, Sanhajo, Futsano au Amojo parolas hine, sed de la 
dua flanko estas ankau vero, ke la plej granda parto de la logantoj de unu 
el la diritaj urboj povus kompreni la loganton de alia urbo ne pli bone, 
ol ekzemple la Berlinano la Londonanon au la Parizano la Holandanon.* 



“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech,” begins 
the most famous story in the Western tradition on the problem of com- 
munication (Genesis 11:1-9), as translated by the good people working 
for King James I of England. We know how it goes: they began to build 
a really tall building, and the Lord was displeased. (“Behold, the people 
is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and 
now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined 
to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that 
they may not understand one another’s speech”) It probably did not 
happen exactly that way, but it is hard to argue with the description of 
the ensuing confusion. 

A decade after the carnage of World War I had been unleashed on 
the peoples of Europe, as a shaky international order emerged that only 
later would be endowed with the sad epithet “interwar,” scientists and 
scholars took stock of the transition to the brave new world that seemed 
in so many ways different from what had preceded the guns of August. 

' “In Europe one ordinarily thinks that in all of China one speaks only one language: 
Chinese. The truth is that the residents of Peking, as also the residents of Canton, 
Shanghai, Fujian or Amoy [Xiamen] speak Chinese, but on the other hand the truth 
is also that the greatest part of the residents of the said cities could understand the 
residents of another city no better than for example a Berliner a Londoner or a Pari- 
sian a Dutchman.” 

io 6 


The informal linguistic truce that had existed between the triumvirate 
of English, French, and German — slightly disrupted by the emergence 
of Russian as a language of chemistry in the late nineteenth century — 
was likely to be sundered in the coming decades. “To-day, with the re- 
crudescence of many minor nationalities, and the revived national feel- 
ing of some larger units, caused by the Great War,” noted Roland Kent 
in 1924, “we may be facing an era in which important publications will 
appear in Finnish, Fithuanian, Hungarian, Serbian, Irish, Turkish, He- 
brew, Arabic, Hindustani, Japanese, Chinese.” 2 Futher Dyer, a year be- 
fore Kent, was still more pessimistic: 

A decade or so ago, a reading knowledge of English, French and 
German enabled these isolated scholars to keep fairly abreast the 
latest developments. To-day he needs Italian, Spanish, Dutch, the 
Scandinavian and Slavonic languages; one may even add the Japa- 
nese. The chemists of Italy and Sweden are doing important work 
just as the chemists of England and Germany. 3 

Babel was already here. 

Was this true? Fet us set aside for a moment the part about the con- 
temporary Babel, and examine Dyer’s “decade earlier” — that is, before 
the outbreak of the War — when apparently the triumvirate sufficed. 
Here is an analysis (by Austrian physicist Feopold Pfaundler) of the 
situation in 1910: 

It is required or supposed that every scholar or man of science 
should know at least German, French, and English. For the majority 
of German scholars and men of science this may hold good, but in 
the case of the French it is less true, and in the case of the English 
least of all. The knowledge of these three languages is, however, no 
longer sufficient, and that for the following reasons. 

In the first place, several other languages must be taken into ac- 
count, for many Italians write only Italian, many Dutchmen only 
Dutch, whilst numerous Russians, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Scan- 
dinavians, and Spaniards employ only their national languages. 4 

According to Pfaundler, then, even the triumvirate failed to hold out- 
side of Germany, since French and British scientists seemed locked into 
fewer than three scholarly languages. Babel only made the bad present 


Speaking Utopian 


What if we go back even earlier? According to Louis Couturat and 
Leopold Leau, who penned a magisterial volume on “auxiliary lan- 
guages” — that is, languages used as tools between peoples of differ- 
ent tongues — never was the need for such a language more salient. “Its 
necessity emerges even more evidently,” they noted in 1903, “from the 
development of means of communication: what is the good of trans- 
porting oneself in a few hours to a foreign country, if one cannot under- 
stand the inhabitants nor make them understand you? And what is the 
good of telegraphing from one continent to another, or telephoning 
from one country to another, if the two correspondents do not have 
a common language in which they can write or converse?”* 5 Even 
twenty years before Dyer’s diagnosis of a contemporary Babel, it seems 
the dream of almost universal scholarly communication through the 
medium of three dominant languages — a shadow of Latin, but a robust 
shadow nonetheless — was not the case. And we could go further back. 
The scholars of Europe (and also North America) seemed perpetually 
unable to make themselves understood. This problem became salient 
with the emergence of Russian as a scientific language, and it had only 
gotten worse. 

The savants of Europe at the turn of the century considered almost 
no problem more severe than this conundrum of too many languages 
flooding the fragile community of scientists. There were two causes for 
concern. The first was the inability of scientists to actually create sci- 
ence in such a world. Once again, Louis Couturat provides a succinct 
statement of the worry: “Briefly: to keep themselves acquainted with 
the special scientific work and studies which interested them, all sa- 
vants would have to be polyglots; but to become polyglots they would 
have to abandon every other study, and therefore they would be almost 
destitute of knowledge of their special subjects.” 6 Productivity would 
dwindle to nothing, and the march of progress would be checked. 

The second problem was worse: scientists might wall themselves up 
in the monoglot echo chambers of their native languages. As the Danish 
linguist Otto Jespersen reiterated in 1928, the “nationality movement” 

' “Sa necessite resulte encore plus evidemment du developpement des moyens de 
communication: a quoi bon pouvoir se transporter en quelques heures dans un pays 
etranger, si l’on ne peut ni comprendre les habitants ni se faire comprendre deux? A 
quoi bon pouvoir telegraphier d’un continent a l’autre, et telephoner d’un pays a l’au- 
tre, si les deux correspondants n’ont pas de langue commune dans laquelle ils puissent 
ecrire ou converser?” 



had vitiated the sufficiency of the triumvirate to negotiate the lands of 
scholarship. “Even small nations want to assert themselves and fly their 
own colours on every occasion, by way of showing their independence 
of their mightier neighbours.” Of course, they could now do so with the 
ease of printing and the spread of literacy, but at what cost ? “But what is 
a benefit to these countries themselves, may in some cases be detrimen- 
tal to the world at large, and even to authors, in so far as thoughts that 
deserved diffusion all over the globe are now made accessible merely to 
a small fraction of those that should be interested in them.” 

Neither worry was new. At an 1888 meeting of the American Philo- 
sophical Society, based in remote Philadelphia, the death of Latin and 
then the triumvirate was lamented. Looking at their own library hold- 
ings, the Americans observed that “[e] very little principality claims that 
it should print what it has to tell the world of science in its own dialect, 
and claims that the world of science should learn this dialect. Thus we 
have on the list of our scientific exchanges publications in Roumanian 
and Bohemian, in Icelandic and Basque, in Swedish and Hungarian, 
in Armenian and modern Greek, in Japanese and in Portuguese, with- 
out counting the more familiar tongues.” 8 Responsible scientists could 
not keep up, and irresponsible scientists selfishly generated knowledge 
that — by virtue of its incarceration in Hungarian (to pick an offender at 
random) — had ceased to be knowledge because nobody knew it. 

How had communication been possible in the early nineteenth cen- 
tury? Through English, Lrench, and German. These tongues were in- 
deed associated with powerful nation-states, but they were also some- 
thing more. Nonnative speakers had learned these languages en masse in 
order to communicate with others. They were, each of them, auxiliaries, 
and thus facilitated communication across the crazy-quilt of European 
speech. Looking back even further, the memory of Latin as a language 
of scholarship in the medieval and early-modern periods pointed to the 
same solution. Latin had also been an auxiliary, and perhaps a better 
one than the triumvirate. Lor starters, it had been singular: one needed 
to learn only one language, not three, in order to absorb the findings 
of contemporary science. Latin was also, in the sixteenth century, no- 
body’s native language, and so no inherent advantage was granted to 
any particular people over the others. 

The solution to the fin-de-siecle Babel was thus obvious: scien- 
tists needed a universal auxiliary to communicate their findings. This 
chapter and the next follow the dramatic quest for such an auxiliary 
during the thirty years that preceded the outbreak of World War I. In 

Speaking Utopian 


principle, any language could serve as an auxiliary — German, Navajo, 
Slovenian — and thus the selection was a weighty decision, for it would 
lock in scholarly communication for the foreseeable future. Two de- 
velopments converged at the turn of the century: the quest of scien- 
tists to find a universal, ideally neutral , auxiliary; and the emergence 
of a plethora of constructed languages. Far from aberrations lurking in 
the quirky margins of European thought, during the first decade of the 
twentieth century “artificial” or constructed languages such as Espe- 
ranto were appropriated as a perfectly sensible cure for the disease of 
linguistic proliferation that scientists of all stripes had diagnosed. 

The Logic of the Auxiliary 

This story requires that you take constructed languages seriously, at 
least for a moment. For most people, this is a hard sell, marked by the 
general term commonly used to describe these languages: “artificial lan- 
guages.” “Artificial” literally means “made, constructed,” but it carries a 
distinct pejorative connotation of “fake, inauthentic” — think of artifi- 
cial Christmas trees. Actually, trees are a useful analogy, because they 
demonstrate the logic behind the implication. There are natural trees 
out there, ones that you might chop down in December and decorate; 
the existence of the natural is what makes the “artificial” seem “fake.” 
But language is not quite like that. The modern languages are not 
“natural” in the way a plant is (assuming, of course, that we know what 
we are talking about when we talk about natural plants, which after 
millennia of artificial selection, antibiotic treatments, pesticides, and 
now genetic modification, is somewhat of an open question). What do 
we mean by “natural” languages ? As Jespersen pointed out many years 
ago, “very much in the so-called natural languages is ‘artificial,’ and very 
much in the so-called artificial languages is naturalf . ,].” 9 

First, the artificial in the natural. Chemical nomenclature is a clas- 
sic example. We would hesitate to banish German or Russian from the 
camp of natural languages, but the chemical nomenclature in both of 
those languages was carefully constructed from a melange of foreign 
words, ancient roots, and lexemes native to the language. Artificiality — 
in the sense of deliberately made by humans — is evident in a variety 
of more general cases: Modern Hebrew, the transformation of Hindu- 
stani into Hindi and Urdu, the revival of Irish, the purging of English 
words from French, and so on. English does not have an officially sanc- 
tioned body to manage the language as French does with the Academie 



Fran arise, but the countless pressures that move even English in certain 
directions and not in others are similarly not always products of “natu- 
ral forces.” We would do better to follow Jespersen’s terminology and 
think of such languages as “ethnic” rather than “natural,” for they too 
are groomed and modified through conscious effort to adapt them to 
modern conditions. 

Likewise, the natural in the artificial. Of course, artificial languages 
have to be made from something, and they are usually made from ethnic 
languages. Phonemes are taken from here, syntax from there, patterns 
that one wants to eliminate (such as the persistent irregularity of “to 
be” in many languages) are noted and then extirpated, and so on. But 
there is an even clearer way to appreciate the blurriness of the bound- 
ary: there are roughly one thousand native speakers of Esperanto. Yes, 
Esperanto. Typically, they have been raised in households where Espe- 
ranto was the only language common to the parents. Nothing is wrong 
with these people; their linguistic behavior is not stunted or defective in 
any way. They use the language for the entire range of human experience 
just as do users of ethnic languages, and Esperanto has acquired new 
features because of these “denaskuloj” (lit., “from-birthers”). In other 
words, Esperanto is now a “natural language.” Wrap your mind around 
that for a minute. Rather than “artificial,” “planned languages” or “con- 
structed languages” are more accurate descriptors, and I will opt for the 
latter. 10 

But back to the dilemma of our scientists at the dawn of the new, ex- 
citing twentieth century. Babel surrounded them at precisely the mo- 
ment when there was so much science booming across Europe that they 
wanted to access. What were they to do? Proposals of various stripes 
abounded, and the general consensus settled fairly rapidly — and with 
remarkably little controversy — on the obviousness of the need for a 
constructed language to serve as the universal auxiliary. Since this con- 
clusion was so self-evident to them, and is so counterintuitive to us, it 
helps to trace their logic. 

The most straightforward proposal would be to use an ethnic lan- 
guage as an auxiliary. After all, those languages already existed, already 
had a body of speakers who use them every day, and — if you selected a 
language that was used broadly for scientific work, like English, French, 
or German — contained a scientific nomenclature ready to hand. This is, 
of course, what has happened today, with the ubiquitous use of English 
in the sciences, but in 1900 such an outcome was unfathomable. The 
French would never tolerate German; the Germans would never tol- 

Speaking Utopian 


erate English; the English would tolerate nothing at all; and none of 
the rising nationalist movements would submit to any of these three. 
Compromises seemed equally doomed. R. P. Peeters suggested in the 
first years of the century a division of disciplines by language; say, the 
mathematicians would use English, but the philosophers would agree 
to use German, the chemists French, the naturalists Russian, and so on. 
But what about interdisciplinary discussions ? u No, the auxiliary could 
not be an active ethnic language. As Couturat, a strong proponent of 
the constructed-language solution, put it in 1910, “the solution by the 
national languages is the real chimera and utopia; and the solution by 
artificial languages seems the only practical option.”* 12 

Of course, there were more national or ethnic languages to choose 
from than those then used as native languages; in fact, using Latin — a 
“dead” language — offered promise to some. Next to artificial languages, 
some modification of Latin seemed the most likely auxiliary around 
1900 (and continued to be advocated into the 1930s, and somewhat 
beyond). 13 But here, too, there were problems. Latin is, first of all, com- 
plicated: deponent verbs, sequence of tenses, the elaborate subjunctive, 
five declensions, three genders, and other terrors of schoolchildren and 
altar boys the world over. And it was also, well, dead. Even though much 
of the world’s scientific terminology is derived from Latin and Greek 
roots, the key word is “derived.” Latin was adapted to modern condi- 
tions, not modern conditions to Latin. Even though all three words are 
Latin in origin, a whole new vocabulary for “internal combustion en- 
gine” would have to be generated de novo or ex nihilo. Finally, the pro- 
posal of reviving Latin always labored under aspersions of conservatism 
and dogmatism, fed by the perpetual association of the language with 
the Catholic Church. 

It was a commonplace in the first decade of the twentieth century 
that if Latin were to become the universal auxiliary, it would have to be 
simplified in some way, stripped of the irregularities and quirks beloved 
of philologists. The most successful (relatively speaking) of these “neo- 
Latins” was proferred by distinguished Italian mathematician Giuseppe 
Peano in 1903 under the name “Latino sineflexione”: “Latin without in- 
flections,” also known as Interlingua (but not to be confused with Alex- 
ander Code’s more popular Interlingua of 1951, which we will encounter 
in chapter 8). Albert Guerard, one of the chief historians of constructed 

*“la solution par les langages nationales est reellement la chimere et l’utopie; et la 
solution par la langue artificielle apparait comme la seule pratique.” 



languages, believed that Peano had indeed “placed the whole question, 
for the first time, on a strictly scientific basis.” 14 Peano insisted that one 
should use Latin nouns (mostly) in the nominative singular and verbs 
(mostly) in the infinitive, and let English’s strict word order take care of 
meaning. (Although, to be honest, he wasn’t particularly rigorous about 
this, as examples will show, with ablatives and conjugations littering 
the purity of the constructed language.) You could expect scholars in 
1903 to have some familiarity with Latin, and so it should produce no 
difficulty. As he began his manifesto on the subject (published in the 
mathematical journal he edited): 

Lingua latina fuit internationalis in omni scientia, ab imperio Ro- 
mano, usque ad finem saeculi XVIII. Hodie multi reputant illam 
nimis difficilem esse, iam in scientia, magis in commercio. 

Sed non tota lingua latina est necessaria; parva pars sufficit ad ex- 
primendam quamlibet ideam. 15 

I will leave that untranslated. Either it makes sense to you, or it does 
not — and that gives you a feel for what most of Peano’s contemporaries 
also thought about Latino sine flexione (with the exception of some 
Italians, who rallied behind the system). 16 

If scientists needed a universal auxiliary because of the emerging 
Babel, and they could not use a living language, and also not a dead 
one, the only option would seem to be to make a new language tailored 
to the purpose. These new languages differed from the seventeenth- 
century efforts of John Wilkins and his colleagues; the important dis- 
tinction, coined in 1856 in a paper at the Societe de Linguistique, is 
between a priori languages and a posteriori ones. A priori constructed 
languages created everything from scratch: all the words were new (and 
thus divorced from the illogicality of historical connotations), much 
of the grammar and syntax was new, and they had to be learned from 
whole cloth. These were the first constructed languages, and owing 
to their extreme difficulty they have never been very popular. Usually 
only the constructor knew how to use it, and then not always well. An 
exception in terms of popularity to some degree was Francois Sudre’s 
“Solresol” (1827). Using a total of seven phonemes (do, re, mi, fa, sol, 
la, ti), Sudre constructed a language which could be sung according to 
the musical scale. He packed theaters with displays where adepts would 
translate an audience message into Solresol and play it on an instru- 
ment, and he would decode it properly. Seven phonemes, however, were 

Speaking Utopian 


not all that many, and so words quickly became very long. A neat par- 
lor trick, but not a viable language. As Couturat and Leau puzzled in 
1903, “[o]ne has trouble explaining the relative success of this language, 
the most impoverished, the most artificial, and the most impractical of 
all the a priori languages.”* 17 Solresol was the first and last a priori lan- 
guage to win broad public attention. 

If a constructed universal auxiliary was to be had, it was going to 
have to be a posteriori-, built upon ethnic languages but stripping them 
of the exceptions and complexities that bogged down students of tra- 
ditional tongues — in the manner of Peano’s a posteriori simplification 
of Latin, but only more so. The major argument for this was . . . science 
itself. The nomenclature of science, however much it varied among vari- 
ous languages, was in essence already international, and although scien- 
tists feared the Babel to come, it was the case in 1910 that they “can read 
foreign scientific literature much more easily than newspapers or novels 
written in the same languages.” 18 Using the internationality of science as 
scaffolding, one could build a tool to facilitate communication without 
transgressing national sensitivities. For, as Jespersen noted, the ethnic 
languages would still have their role to play: 

[The auxiliary] must necessarily remain an intellectual language, a 
language for the brain, not for the heart; it can never expect to give 
expression to those deep emotions which find their natural outlet 
through a national language. There will always be something dry 
and prosaic about it, and it is a mistake to try to translate very deep 
poetry in it, for it will be capable of rendering only those elements 
of poetry which might as well have been expressed through a para- 
phrase in native prose. 19 

To be sure, there were naysayers, those who pointed out that the advo- 
cates of constructed languages approached the problem of scientific 
Babel by proposing to scientists “that they add on to other foreign lan- 
guages yet another foreign language to be learned. And one calls that 
simplification, the saving of energy !” f 20 But these people were just 
that — naysayers — and the fin-de-siecle debate hinged less on whether 

*“On a peine a s’expliquer le succes relatif de cette langue, la plus pauvre, la plus arti- 
ficielle et la plus impraticable de toutes les langues a priori 

^“daftsie zu den andern Fremdsprachen noch eine neue Fremdsprache hinzulernen. Und 
das nennt man Vereinfachung, Ersparung von Energie!” 



constructed languages were a good idea, but rather on which one should 
be adopted. Europeans at 1900 already knew that it was possible to have 
tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of individuals of dif- 
ferent nationalities communicating through a neutral , constructed lan- 
guage. They knew about Volapiik. 


Volapiik (in Volapiik: vol = world, a = genitive ending, puk = speak, 
language; hence “language of the world” or “worldspeak”) was one of 
the most astonishing linguistic developments of the late nineteenth 
century, and its story would make a gripping subject for a novel (and in 
fact already has ). 21 The idea for creating this universal language, accord- 
ing to one report, came to the Roman Catholic priest Johann Martin 
Schleyer while he was sleeping on the night of 31 March 1879 at his 
parish near Lake Constance in southern Germany. In late 1880 he pub- 
lished his grand framework, which he introduced with characteristic 

Through the magnificent worldwide postal system a tremendous 
step forwards to this beautiful goal is made. Also with reference to 
money, measures, weight, divisions of time, laws and language . . . 
the brotherhood of man should unite more and more! To this lan- 
guage union on a magnificent scale the present short work will give 
the first impetus.* 22 

There are two points worth noting in this passage, one typical of the 
golden age of language construction and the other rather unusual. The 
common trope was to draw inspiration from contemporary innovations 
in communications and transportation technologies, and the standard- 
izations that followed in their wake. Peculiar about Volapiik was Schley- 
er’s avowed intention to create not an auxiliary, but a new universal lan- 
guage to supplant all the world’s tongues. In the motto of what would 

*“Durch di groCartige Weltpost ist ein gewaltiger Schritt zu disem schonen Zile vor- 
warz gemacht worden. Auch inbezug auf Geld, MaE, Gewicht, Zeiteinteilung, Geseze 
und Sprache . . . sollte sich das Brudergeschlecht der Menschen merundmer einigen! 
Zu diser Spracheinigung im groEartigsten MaEstabe will vorligendes Werkchen den 
ersten AnstoE geben.” The unusual orthography and emphasis is Schleyer’s. 

Speaking Utopian 1 1 5 

later become a movement: Menade bal, puki bal, to one mankind, one 
language ! 

The idea spread like wildfire. Textbooks cropped up in a host of lan- 
guages, and commercial enterprises promoted Volapiik to ease interna- 
tional correspondence. 23 At first spreading in German-speaking lands, 
by the middle of the 1880s Volapiik had taken France by storm. Les 
Grands Magasins du Printemps, the great Parisian department store, 
offered courses on it, training no fewer than 121 new speakers of the 
universal language of the future. 24 By the peak of the movement in 1888, 
advocates argued that 210,000 people had studied the language, and a 
significant proportion of them continued to use it. Even granting ex- 
aggeration by Volapiik boosters, the penetration of the language was 
impressive. 25 Yet more astonishing than numbers was its geographi- 
cal distribution. Samples of Volapiik newspapers either partially or en- 
tirely written in the new language stored in the archives of the Ameri- 
can Philosophical Society in Philadelphia range from China, Denmark, 
Turin, Oregon, Zurich, and Prague. The charter of the North- American 
Volapiik Club ( Volapukaklub Nolumelopik) registered well over fifty 
members, mostly based in New England. 26 The great French writer 
Ernest Renan observed these developments with wonder, bleakly quip- 
ping (in Albert Guerard’s translation) that “a few generations hence, 
naught will remain of our writings, but a few selections with interlinear 
translation into Volapiik.” 27 

What was this wonderful language, this mechanism to undo the rav- 
ages of Babel? I have extracted a sample sentence, pretty much at ran- 
dom, from an 1888 textbook: 

Nelabo jimatel yagela pedlefof, nendas yuf akanom pablinon ofe. 28 

Make sense? Volapiik is based on a large collection of fundamental 
roots, derived a posteriori (mostly from English and German), suitably 
modified to meet Schleyer’s criteria: they tended to be monosyllabic, 
they had to begin and end with a consonant (but not, for grammati- 
cal reasons, with 5), every instance of the letter r was replaced by / out 
of consideration to East Asians (since Japanese, for example, does not 
make a distinction between the sounds), and there were other morpho- 
logical transformations demanded by the need to avoid homonymy and 
other flaws of ethnic languages. Upon these roots, one attached prefixes 
and suffixes to decline them as nouns or conjugate them as verbs (Vola- 

ii 6 


piik has four cases and a full complement of tenses). By simple aggluti- 
nation, therefore, one can express complex thoughts from rudimentary 

Let’s take our sentence word by word. “Nelabo” is an adverb (that’s 
what the o signifies, and it is a negation of a fundamental concept liib, 
which means “luck.” Hence, “unluckily.” “Jimatel” is easier still. The pre- 
fix “ji” is pronounced “shi” (the j would be rendered in English as sh), 
and feminizes the root; mat is the root for mate, derived cleanly from 
the English, and el is a suffix that indicates an agent or person. So jimatel 
is a female person who is a mate, also known as “wife.” “Yagela” has two 
suffixes we have met before: the genitive suffix indicating possession 
and the agentive suffix \yag is derived from the German jagen, “to hunt.” 
So we are talking about “the hunter’s wife.” Now to our verb, “pedlefof.” 
To conjugate a verb — in this case dlefon, “to hit” — for the third-person 
singular feminine, we add the suffix “-of” to the root die/ by contrast, 
first-person singular would be “-ob” and first-person plural “-obs.” The 
prefix e marks the perfect tense, and the additional prefix p makes it pas- 
sive. (This suffixing and prefixing can go on for quite a while; famously, 
one contemporary calculated that each Volapitk verb could come in 
505,400 different forms.) We are done with the first clause. 

The second clause begins with “nendas,” which means “un- 
less” — sometimes, you just have to memorize subordinate conjunc- 
tions! “Yuf” is the root meaning “help,” and since it has no suffixes or 
prefixes, we can rest easy: it’s in the nominative case, and is the subject 
of our clause. Then our verb “akanom” is a conjugation of kanon, “to be 
able to,” with the suffix indicating third-person singular masculine, in 
exact analogy to the first clause. Since “yuf” is masculine, we know that 
is the subject of the verb, and the prefix d is the past imperfect tense. 
“Blinon” is the infinitive for “to bring,” where you can see how the r of 
“bring” was changed to an / and Schleyer simplified the consonant clus- 
ter at the end. The prefix p is familiar — it makes things passive — and the 
a preceding is a dummy prefix to avert the unpronounceable consonant 
cluster pbl. By now, “ofe” might explain itself. We have already seen of as 
the particle for third-person singular feminine; here it has the suffix e 
which makes it dative, since “she” is going to be our indirect object. And 
now we have it: 

Nelabo jimatel yagela pedlefof, nendas yuf akanom pablinon ofe. 

Unluckily the hunter’s wife was struck, unless help was able to be 
brought to her. 

Speaking Utopian 


Simple enough. I mean it: Volapiik was easy. It certainly was a lot easier 
than many, possibly most, ethnic languages — easier than German, say, 
for an Italian. 29 

People flocked to it in droves. In 1884, just four years after the lan- 
guage was published, Schleyer convened the first Volapiik congress 
at Friedrichshafen by Lake Constance. Three years later, the second 
Congress took place in Munich, and roughly two hundred attended, 
where they established the Universal Association of Volapiikists ( Vola - 
piikaklub Valemik ), which in turn created the International Volapiik 
Academy ( Kadem Beviinetik Volapiika ). Discussions at the first two 
meetings took place in German, the common language of most of the 
participants, but at the third congress in Paris in 1889, Volapiik was the 
only language used; even the bellhops and waiters spoke it. The shift 
to Paris marked the internationalization of the movement, an achieve- 
ment largely due to Auguste Kerckhofts, professor of modern languages 
at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, who founded the As- 
sociation franpaise pour la propagation du Volapiik in 1886 and was ap- 
pointed president of the Academy the following year. (Schleyer was 
named Grandmaster for life.) By 1889, there were 283 Volapiik clubs 
world wide, 1,600 Volapiik diplomas granted, 316 publications about 
it (182 of them in 1888 alone) in 25 languages — 85 were written in Ger- 
man, but 60 appeared entirely in Volapiik — and between 25 and 35 peri- 
odicals from around the globe. 30 

Then, quite suddenly, the bottom fell out. To be frank, there had 
been warning signs since the creation of the Academy at the Munich 
meeting. Kerckhoffs, who worked tirelessly to spread Volapiik, pro- 
posed a series of reforms to make the elaborate language easier to learn. 
Schleyer dug in his heels: the language was perfect, and the success of 
the movement demonstrated it. He argued that he should have a veto 
on any reform proposed by the Academy, while Kerckhofts was will- 
ing to grant him only a large say — three votes for him alone, among the 
seventeen members of the Grand Council. The debate came to a head 
at Paris with the discussion of the proposals, and by 1891 Kerckhofts 
had resigned. By then, Volapiikists had already begun to disappear with 
astonishing speed. 31 As Albert Guerard put it in 1922: “The strangest 
thing about Volapiik was the suddenness of its collapse. In 1888-89, ft 
seemed as though it would conquer the world: in 1890 it was dying.” 32 
(A caveat: With constructed languages, one has to be careful before de- 
claring something extinct. There was a stray pamphlet defending Vola- 
piik in 1904; a one-man revival in 1931 by a Dutch physician named 

1 1 8 


Arie de Jong, who argued as late as 1956 that “V[olapiik] will never 
be old-fashioned, just like every other International] L[anguage], pre- 
cisely because V. offers all the desired guarantees of exactitude and neu- 
trality”* 33 ; and an attempt at revival in 1979, to mark the centenary. 
There is even a Volapuk division of Wikipedia. Nonetheless it is prob- 
ably safe to declare Volapuk moribund. 34 ) 

There are two key features of this story. The first is the fragility of 
the Volapuk movement. With all the signs of health and vibrancy, how 
could it all end so quickly? Why did all the Volapukists leave, and where 
did they go ? This question was also central for contemporaries. I will 
reserve the autopsy for the following chapter, where we will see how in- 
terpretations ofVolapiik’s demise haunted the controversy over a con- 
structed auxiliary for science. There is, however, another lesson here: for 
about a decade, despite the oddities of its morphology and syntax, Vola- 
puk worked. It was proof positive that people would use a constructed 
language to express themselves. Sure, it died, but perhaps the important 
lesson was that it had lived. 

Hope Returns 

Volapiik triggered a great deal of enthusiasm in the academic world, 
which examined it as a possible solution to the Babel looming over the 
horizon. On 21 October 1887, the American Philosophical Society ap- 
pointed a three-person committee chaired by D. G. Brinton to examine 
it. In their January 1888 report they announced that they found “some- 
thing to praise and much to condemn in [Schleyer’s] attempt.” The 
Philadelphia scholars saw Volapuk as contrary to just about every fea- 
ture of Indo-European (known more commonly at the time as “Aryan”) 
languages, considered by them the only civilized tongues: “Volapuk is 
synthetic and complex; all modern dialects become more and more 
analytic and grammatically simple; the formal elements of Volapuk are 
those long since discarded as outgrown by Aryan speech; its phonet- 
ics are strange in parts to every Aryan; portions of its vocabulary are 
made up for the occasion; and its expressions involve unavoidable ob- 
scurities.” It just would not do. Nonetheless, a recent constructed lan- 
guage project might offer the requisite linguistic simplicity. “The plan 
of Dr. Samenhof,” Brinton’s committee concluded, “is especially to be 

* “. . . le V. n’a jamais ete depasse, voire egale par aucune autre L.I. precisement parce 
que le V. presente toutes les garanties voulues d’exactitude et de neutralite.” 

Speaking Utopian 


recommended in this respect, and may be offered as an excellent ex- 
ample of sound judgment.” 35 They recommended keeping an eye on it. 

This plan, published in 1887 by Dr. LudwikLejzer Zamenhof (to use 
his preferred spelling rather than Brinton’s German-inflected one), is 
by far the dominant constructed language in the world today, dwarfing 
its nearest competitors by orders of magnitude. You know it as Espe- 
ranto. Today most people who are not Esperantists consider it, frankly, 
borderline ridiculous. Then again, people who are not Esperantists typi- 
cally do not know that much about it. It is the official language of the 
Bahai’i faith, is associated with pacifist and internationalist movements, 
was actively persecuted by both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and was 
even used by the United States in the 1950s as the language of “Aggres- 
sor, the Maneuver Enemy” in large-scale simulations of combat against 
a foreign power so as not to unduly alarm any actual countries. 36 There 
is also a full-length 1966 movie in Esperanto called Incubus , featuring a 
young William Shatner. This hodgepodge of associations makes the lan- 
guage seem random and goofy, and I raise them here to get them out of 
our system. For in the years around 1900 Esperanto was not at all silly, 
and the most serious minds of Europe learned it, analyzed it, adopted 
it, or rejected it — they considered it a viable proposal to overcome the 
chaos of tongues. 

Like Volapiik, Esperanto was the creation of a single person, but the 
similarity ends there. For example, while Schleyer hoped to replace all 
ethnic languages with his superior creation, Zamenhof ’s goal was to 
provide a second language for everyone, a means of communication 
outside of the ethnic tongues — in other words, an auxiliary. Zamen- 
hof, a Jewish oculist based in Warsaw (then one of the largest cities in 
the Russian Empire), published his plan for an “internacia lingvo” in a 
short Russian-language pamphlet that cleared the Imperial censor on 
21 May 1887. He wrote it under a pseudonym, Doktoro Esperanto — 
“Dr. Hoping” — and the language eventually assumed the eponym. The 
book came to be known in the movement as the Unua Libro (First 
Book), and contains a brief introduction explaining the complete gram- 
mar of the language encoded in sixteen rules, a vocabulary of 900 roots, 
and Esperanto versions of the Lord’s Prayer, a passage from the Bible, a 
sample letter, and some poems written by Zamenhof himself. He had 
been working on a proj ect for a universal auxiliary, a neutral tongue that 
could serve for communication between the diverse nations of Europe, 
since his youth, and both his biography and his path to the language 
have been well documented in many admiring studies, so I will not re- 



hearse them here . 37 More important for our purposes is understanding 
a bit about how the language works, how it spread, and how its users 
approached the issues surrounding scientific communications. 

The rules of Esperanto are remarkably straightforward. Consider the 
first sentence from the epigraph of this chapter: 

En Europo oni ordinare pensas, ke en la tuta Hinujo oni parolas nur 
unu lingvon — la hinan. 

[In Europe one ordinarily thinks, that in all of China one speaks 
only one language: Chinese.] 

One of the first things that strikes you is that it looks like some mix of 
familiar languages. That’s because Esperanto roots are drawn from six 
widely known source languages: English, French, German, Italian, Rus- 
sian, Spanish. (The Russian is pretty understated.) Each word indicates 
its grammatical part of speech in its ending. If it ends in o, it is a noun; 
in a, an adjective; in e, an adverb. So we can see that “Europo” is the 
noun Europe, but we could easily make the adjective “Europa,” mean- 
ing European, from the same root. “Ordinare” means ordinarily, in the 
same way “ordinara” would mean ordinary. To make a noun plural, you 
add a j, pronounced like an English “y,” and adjectives must agree with 
nouns — “all of China” is “la tuta Hinujo,” just like “all of the Chinas” 
(whatever that might mean) would be “la tutaj Hinujoj.” If something 
is the direct object of a verb, as with “lingvon,” we append an n to mark 
the accusative case, which we would also append to the adjective if there 
were one. That is just about everything you need to know about nouns. 
Verbs are even easier: if it ends in as, it is present tense for all persons 
and numbers; is for past; os for future. There are no exceptions, no ir- 
regularities. Armed with a dictionary and what I just described, you 
could make it through a great deal of Esperanto. 

But the language has some idiosyncratic features, visible in the 
word “Hinujo.” First, what’s going on with that circumflex? There are 
five “hatted” letters in Esperanto, c, g, h,j, s, which stand for hushing 
sounds as in chat, gem, Bar/?, yoke, and shut. No other language has this 
orthography — it may look like the Czech hacek, but it is upside-down. 
Besides the consonants, one vowel shares a peculiar, almost unique, dia- 
critic: the u, which represents a glide like the English “w.” Also interest- 
ing is the suffix uj, which is attached to the root bin before the final o 
(which, recall, marks this as a noun). Hino means “Chinese person” in 
the same way hina means “Chinese” as in “Chinese food.” The suffix 


Speaking Utopian 

means “container of,” so in Esperanto Hinujo means “container of Chi- 
nese people,” or the country China. There are a host of these suffixes — 
id means “descendant,” in means “feminine,” means “intensified,” and 
so on — and they can also function as roots for words: ujo means “con- 
tainer,” uja means “of or pertaining to a container.” With these tools you 
can build an enormous array of words from a relatively small number of 
roots. Zamenhof deliberately designed it to be easy to learn. 

At first, most of the people who took him up on it were Russians, 
which makes sense, considering that the Unua Libro was written in 
Russian and thus linguistically inaccessible to a large portion of Euro- 
peans. Leo Tolstoy, the famous novelist, penned a short endorsement 
of the language as extremely simple (he claimed it took him two hours 
to learn), although at a time when Tolstoy was persona non grata to the 
Tsarist regime this may have generated more trouble than it was worth 
(which wasn’t much in any event). 38 In 1888, Leopold Einstein, who had 
founded the Weltsprach-Verein in Nuremberg in 1885 and was devoted 
to Volapiik, received a copy of a translation of Zamenhof ’s booklet in 
1888. Smitten, he shifted to Esperanto, taking the Nuremberg Volapii- 
kists with him. Einstein died the following year, but his disciple Chrys- 
tian Schmidt continued in his stead and began issuing La Esperanti- 
sto, the first periodical in Zamenhof’s language. 39 In 1890 the journal 
was transferred to Zamenhof’s supervision, and became an important 
force for cohesion in the movement, until 1895, when it was shut- 
tered by the Tsarist censorship for publishing a translation of Tolstoy’s 
banned Faith and Reason. The journal moved to Uppsala. (Esperanto 
was also big in Sweden.) The subsequent growth of the movement 
was stunning. By 1907 the Unua Libro had been translated from Rus- 
sian into Polish, French, German, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Swedish, 
Lithuanian, Danish, Bulgarian, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Latvian, Portu- 
guese, Dutch, Hungarian, Estonian, Catalan, Flemish, Japanese, Greek, 
Ukrainian, and Arabic. There were at least 756 Esperanto organizations 
worldwide, 123 of them outside Europe, and 6 4 journals. 40 

The most important development in Esperanto’s early history was 
its transition from a language dominated by Russians — who endowed 
the movement with some of its enduring idealism and shaped Espe- 
ranto literary style — to a movement centered in Paris in the 1890s. The 
shift in center of gravity is associated with Louis de Beaufront. For rea- 
sons discussed in the following chapter, de Beaufront later became a 
deeply unpopular figure in Esperanto circles, and the Esperantophile 
historiography tends to diminish his importance and cast aspersions on 



his character as “the most enigmatic, quite possibly the most pathetic, 
figure in the history of Esperanto.” 41 To be fair, this is pretty easy to do, 
since to call de Beaufront’s veracity questionable would be an under- 

According to de Beaufront, he had been working on his own artifi- 
cial language, dubbed “Adjuvanto,” but when he came across Esperanto 
he realized its intrinsic superiority and threw all of his energies behind 
it, becoming, in the words of a 1907 Esperanto textbook, “the greatest 
and most fervent of all the apostles of Esperanto.” 42 After 1905, in re- 
sponse to some personal attacks, he claimed he was a Marquis who had 
been forced by poverty to become a private tutor to the family of Count 
Chandon de Briailles. 43 We do not know whether Adjuvanto ever 
existed, 44 but we do know that in 1892 de Beaufront published a large 
Esperanto textbook in French and an important promotional leaflet 
in 1895. In 1898 he founded the Societe pour la propagation d’Esperanto 
and the bilingual journal LEsperantiste, marking the tipping point of 
the French ascendancy within the movement. 45 Soon, the powerful and 
stodgily conservative Hachette became the main publisher of Esperanto 
texts, locking in the language’s unusual orthography. 

De Beaufront’s influence centrally shaped two significant deci- 
sions of the fledgling movement, both of which came to a head at the 
first world congress of Esperanto at Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1905: moral 
and political neutrality; and linguistic conservatism and stability. The 
eponymous Boulogne Declaration issued at that meeting, penned by 
Zamenhof, affirmed that Esperantists did not seek to supplant natu- 
ral languages, and distanced the movement from religious or political 
ideas, an avowal de Beaufront insisted upon in the face of Zamenhof ’s 
own interest in promoting an ideal of universal brotherhood ( Homo - 
aranismo, strongly influenced by the Jewish ethical precepts sometimes 
known as “Hillelism”). 46 Those important issues proved tangential to 
the question of scientific communication. Not so the fourth point of 
the Declaration, which read in part (as translated by sociologist of the 
Esperanto movement Peter Forster): 

Esperanto has no personal legislator and depends on no particular 
man. All opinions and works of the creator of Esperanto have, like 
the opinions and works of every Esperantist, an absolutely private 
character, compulsory for nobody. The only foundation, compul- 
sory for all Esperantists, once and for all, is the booklet Fundamento 
de Esperanto, in which nobody has the right to make a change. 47 

Speaking Utopian 


Constructed languages face an intrinsic problem: how to keep the 
language fixed enough to build a community of speakers when each 
user tends to push the idiom in individualized directions. Ethnic lan- 
guages have a body of literature and custom that stabilizes the tongue, 
an option closed to Esperantists. The Fundamento imposed a standard 
to prevent disintegration. It consisted of the grammatical part of the 
UnuaLibro (i.e., the sixteen rules); the universal dictionary ( Universala 
Vortaro ) of basic translations into English, French, German, Polish, and 
Russian; and the 1894 collection of exercises produced by Zamenhof 
(the Ekzercaro). The Declaration elevated the Fundamento to a univer- 
sal baseline or standard for Esperantists; one could add to the language, 
but one could not modify or take away from this core. It became, in the 
parlance of the movement, netusebla — untouchable. To enforce this, a 
68-member Lingva Komitato (language committee) was established. 

The Declaration locked down the language. In the Unua Libro of 
1887, Zamenhof declared that he was “far from considering the language 
I have proposed as somehow perfected, so that nothing can be higher 
or better than it; but I tried, as much as I could, to satisfy all those 
demands which one could pose to an international language.”* 48 He 
asked the public for comments, and only after considering them would 
he secure the language in “a final, permanent form. If someone were to 
consider these corrections unsatisfactory, he should not forget that the 
language even afterwards would not be sealed from all sorts of possible 
improvements, with the single difference that then the right of chang- 
ing it will belong already not to me, but to an authoritative, generally 
recognized academy of this language.’^ 49 Even after those slight modifi- 
cations were produced (in the Dua Libro, or “Second Book”), the issue 
of reform was still alive. Subscribers of La Esperantisto were asked in 
1894 to vote on a slate of reforms in both August and — absent a clear 
result — again in November, with a majority of 144 opting to retain the 
language as it was, while the 109 reformist votes split three ways. 50 By 

* “fl AaAeK OT Toro, HTo6bI CHHTaTb npeAA05KeHHbIH MHOK) H3bIKHeM-TO COBepnieHHblM, 
Bbirne h Aynrne Hero y)Ke 6bm> HHHero He mokct; ho h CTapaACH, HacKOAbKO Mor, 

+ “oKOHHaTeAbHaH, nOCTOHHHaH <j)OpMa. EcAH 6bl KOMy Ah6o 3TH nonpaBKH Ka3aAHCb 
H3MeHHTb 6yAeT npHHaAAOKaTb yace He MHe, a aBTOpHTeTHOH, o6m;enpH3HaHHOH 
aKaACMHH 3TOrO H3bIKa.” 



1905, groundswells in favor of reform had begun to reemerge, not least 
because of problems treating scientific nomenclature within Esperanto. 

“Without doubt,” Richard Lorenz opined in 1910, “one of the most 
important conditions to be satisfied by an artificial international lan- 
guage is, that it should be capable of being employed in science.” 51 
Volapukists, for example, had produced translations of scientific texts 
and even original expositions of analytic geometry. 52 Yet the Esperanto 
community generated very little scientific literature until the founda- 
tion of Internacia SciencaRevuo (International Science Review) in Paris 
in 1904. This relative silence is somewhat striking, since the language 
had been created by a physician, and science was singled out as an im- 
portant application in the 1887 inaugural document: 

Whoever has tried to live in a city populated by people of differ- 
ent nations, struggling amongst themselves, would have doubtless 
felt that enormous benefit an international language would present 
to humanity, one which, not encroaching upon the internal life of 
peoples , could, at least in countries with a multilingual population, 
be a state and a societal language. I think there is no need for me 
to expound, finally, on what enormous significance an international 
language would have for science, trade — in a word, at every step.* 53 

Nonetheless, until the advent of the Revuo, scientific terminology was 
noticeably lacking. Within its pages, several discussions about develop- 
ing a chemical nomenclature in the constructed language demonstrate 
quite clearly the problems of building a scientific auxiliary from scratch, 
especially the tension between internationality and uniformity. 

The Revuo had an auspicious beginning. Edited by Paul Fruictier, a 
physician who had begun learning Esperanto in 1900, it was published 
by Hachette and sponsored by a whole raft of distinguished names: not 
only Zamenhofi but also the French Physical Society, the International 
Electrical Society, and (mostly French) scientists including Marcel- 

*“KtO pa3 nonpo6oBaA>KHTb B rOpOAe, HaceAeHHOM AKJAEMH pa3AHHHbIX, 6opRIU,HXCR 
Me>KAy co6oio, HaijHH, tot nonyBCTBOBaA 6e 3 coMHeHHR, Kaicyio rpoMaAHyio ycAyry 
OKa3aA 6bl HeAOBeneCTBy HHTepHaiJHOHaAbHblH H3bIK, KOTOpblH, He BTOpraHCb B 
AOMaiUHWK) 2KH3HB HapO/\,OB, MOr 6bl, IIO KpaHHeH Mepe B CTpaHaX C pa3HOR3bIHHbIM 
HaceAeHHeM, 6bITb R3bIKOM TOCyAapCTBeHHblM H o6meCTBeHHbIM. KaKOe, HaKOHeiJ,, 
orpoMHoe 3HaneHHe hmca 6bi Me>KAyHapoAHbiH R3biK aar HayKH, ToproBAH — caobom 
H a krrcaom rnary, — o 6 3 tom, r AyMaio, MHe Henero pacnpocTpaHRTbCR.” 

Speaking Utopian 


lin Berthelot, Henri Poincare, Henri Becquerel, and William Ramsay. 
(The last two were Nobel laureates for 1903 and 1904 in physics and 
chemistry, respectively.) Fruictier announced the monthly’s aspirations 
on the first page: “Internacia scienca revuo has the goal indeed to create 
and fix the special terms which are necessary to professional colleagues 
of various countries in order to communicate among themselves. Inter- 
nacia scienca revuo will do that by a natural method, importing techni- 
cal and popular articles, and analyses of the most interesting works.”* 54 
For example, readers were immediately treated to a translation of the 
preface to Poincare’s Science and Hypothesis, and later that year Fruic- 
tier serialized a translation of Russian chemist Dmitrii Mendeleev’s hy- 
pothesis of a new chemical element for the world ether, which would 
supposedly occupy a slot in his famous periodic system. (Ivan Chetveri- 
kov, the translator, promised Mendeleev that “with the help of Espe- 
ranto, it will be as clear as a bright day for everyone.”) 4 55 As it happens, 
neither the hoped-for clarity nor the elemental ether quite materialized. 
In typical fashion, the translation included editorial footnotes explain- 
ing new Esperanto coinages for technical terms, and a collection of all 
new terms was published in the December 1904 issue. 

After a year, Fruictier happily noted “the interest of many scien- 
tists in Esperanto.” 456 One might conclude this was optimistic exag- 
geration, but communications in other journals such as the Ameri- 
can flagship Science indicated that scientists were indeed taking notice 
of the constructed language. 57 Fruictier continued to edit the journal 
until health issues and other obligations required him to step down in 
December 1906, to be replaced by the Swiss mathematician Rene de 
Saussure, brother of the renowned linguist Ferdinand. De Saussure in- 
jected new dynamism into the production, and lobbied for Esperanto 
activism with the wave of standardizations that was sweeping contem- 
porary Europe. 

De Saussure’s helming of the Revuo was linked to the creation of the 
Esperanta Scienca Asocio (Esperanto Scientific Association) in January 
1907, which he also directed. Much like the journal, the Asocio is evi- 

*"Internacia scienca revuo celas ja krei kaj fiksi la terminojn specialajn, kiuj estas 
necesaj al diverslandaj samprofesianoj por komunikadi inter si. Internacia scienca 
revuo tion faros per natura metodo, alportante artikolojn teknikajn au vulgarigajn, 
kaj analizojn de plej interesantaj laboroj.” 

+ “npH noMonin acnepaHTO, 6yAeT ^cho aab Bcex KaK 6eAWH a^hb. 

*‘Tintereso de multaj sciencistoj pri Esperanto.” 



dence of the normality of discussions of Esperanto in the scholarly com- 
munity during the first decade of the twentieth century. Far from being 
a joke, Esperanto was considered a perfectly plausible, even desirable, 
solution to the vexing issue of the auxiliary, given the broad agreement 
that neither living nor dead ethnic languages would serve. In perfect 
homology to other standardizing organizations or linguistic academies, 
the Asocio had a board of academics who collected and systematized 
technical vocabularies. As a 1907 Esperanto textbook enthused: 

This is perhaps the most practical step yet taken towards the stan- 
dardization of technical terms, which is so badly needed in all 
branches of science. A universal language offers the best solution 
of the vexed question, because it starts with a clean sheet. Once a 
term has been admitted, by the competent committee for a par- 
ticular branch of science, into the technical Esperanto vocabulary 
of that science, it becomes universal, because it has no pre-existent 
rivals[. . .]. 58 

The Asocio also lobbied scientists to accept the use of Esperanto as 
an official language at international conferences (which sometimes 
worked), and to induce journals to accept Esperanto submissions (less 

In the first issue of the Revuo, January 1904, only one article ap- 
peared among the various translations floating a proposal for a con- 
sistent Esperanto nomenclature for a particular science: chemistry. 
“Chemists certainly do not need a complete dictionary: it would be 
impossible because of the very large number of chemicals. But it is suffi- 
cient that they will have a key for word formation and certain examples 
using a template,” R. van Melckebeke and Th. Renard noted. “We kept 
on working mainly on the principle of internationality, supporting our- 
selves on the German, English, and French languages, which are those 
used most generally among scientists.”* 59 In short, they were building 
an auxiliary upon the assumption that chemistry already functioned as 
a kind of auxiliary. So far so good. Most of their attention was devoted 

*“Kemiistoj ne bezonas certe plenan vortaron: gi estus neebla pro la tre granda 
nombro da kemiajoj. Sed suficas, ke oni havos slosilon por la vortfarado kaj kel- 
kajn ekzemplojn uzotajn sablone.f. . .] Ni laboradis precipe lau la principo de inter- 
nacieco, apogante nin sur la lingvoj germana, angla, kaj franca, kiuj estas la plej uza- 
taj generale ce la scienculoj.” 

Speaking Utopian 


to inorganic chemistry, which was simpler than organic chemistry, but 
their progress was frustrated by the status of the Fundamento. One can 
see the problem perhaps most clearly with the chemical substance mer- 
cury: “Hg. Hidrargo is in the dictionary [the Universala Vortaro — MG]. 
Merkuro is used chemically in the English, German, and French lan- 
guages.”* 60 Could one change the Fundamento in order to adapt Espe- 
ranto as a scientific auxiliary? 

This sally into the contentious world of chemical nomenclature drew 
more letters to the editor than any other article in the Revuo ’s entire first 
year. General Hippolyte Sebert, one of the lions of the French move- 
ment, wrote in to the March issue with other modifications. Perhaps 
the elements known in English as “phosphorus” and “sulfur” should 
become “fosfo” and “sulfo,” freeing up “fosforo” for the phenomenon of 
“phosphorescence” ? Following this reformist spirit, he sided with van 
Melckebeke and Renard on mercury: “In the same way I would prefer 
merkuro to ‘hidrargo,’ because the first is known by the English, Italians, 
and French; however I am of a less firm opinion because of the possible 
confusion with the god Merkuro [Mercury].” 1 61 Others rejected all the 
suggestions and stumped for a brand new elemental suffix: “iumo.” 62 
The Russian community generally opposed reform, as was the case 
with D. Piskunov: “I prefer hidrargo a) in order not to confuse this 
idea with [the] idea of the planet; b ) in order not to confuse it with 
the Roman god of commerce: Hermeso; c) because it will fit more to 
the abbreviated sign Fig.” f 63 Antoni Grabowski, a Polish Esperantist, 
had the most authoritative voice, insisting firmly on Zamenhof ’s terms, 
even before the Boulogne Declaration made such adherence function- 
ally obligatory: 

Scienca Revuo does not have the goal of imposing on chemists be- 
sides the existing international collection of norms a new confusing 
one.[. . .] Dr. Zamenhof gave precise directions for supplement- 
ing our dictionary. What is in the dictionary shall remain without 

*“Hg. Hidrargo estas en la vortaro. Merkuro estas uzata kemie en lingvoj angla, ger- 
mana kaj franca.” 

f “Same mi preferus merkuro ol ‘hidrargo,’ car la unua estas konata de angloj, italoj, 
ka[j] francoj; tamen mi estas malpli firmopinia, pro la ebla konfuzo kun la dio Mer- 

‘'“‘Mi preferas hidrargo a) por ne konfuzi tiun ideon kun ideo de l’planedo; b) por ne 
konfuzi gin kun nomo de roma dio de komerco : Hermeso; c) car gi pli konvenos al sia 
signo mallongigita Hg.” 



changes. One is to form derivatives from the existing roots or from 
newly introduced international roots. We shall accept international 
roots without confusing changes so that everyone will be able to 
learn them easily.* 64 

Van Melckebeke and Renard responded: “About that we remark, that 
if Dr. Zamenhof gave examples in the Universala Vortaro, by that he 
was not at all speaking about the rules which he gave for the adoption 
of technical words.” 1 65 The debate did not end decisively, but since the 
Fundamento came to stand for the chief standardizing force in the com- 
munity, Grabowski’s position seemed in the ascendant. Fruictier did 
not come down on either side, even publishing a completely different 
proposal in April 1904. 66 And so the situation remained until 1907: 
Esperantists proved remarkably nimble in generating ideas for adapt- 
ing to science, but the anarchic social structure of their community — 
mirroring, in a sense, that of science itself — produced no standard. 

Delegating the Auxiliary 

Thus it was clear to many advocates for a constructed scientific auxil- 
iary that any solution at the linguistic level had to come alongside a 
corresponding organizational framework. An opportunity for develop- 
ing precisely such an authoritative body emerged in Paris in 1900 with 
the first meeting of the International Association of Academies. Estab- 
lished the preceding year and based in Vienna, the Association repre- 
sented the impulse of scholars to coordinate between the multitude of 
scholarly societies that had proliferated in the late nineteenth century. 
Within the framework of the Association, a Delegation for the Adop- 
tion of an International Auxiliary Language was formed on 17 Janu- 
ary 1901, with support from 310 member organizations (some ofwhich 
were no grander than a local chamber of commerce) and 1,250 indi- 

*“Scienca Revuo ne havas la celon altrudi al la kemiistoj anstatau la ekzistanta inter- 
nacia nomaro ian novan konfuzantan.f. . .] Por la plenigo de nia vortaro D° Zamen- 
hof donis precizajn direktilojn. Kio estas en la vortaro, restu sen sangoj. Devenajoj 
oni formu el la ekzistantaj radikoj au de novaj enkondukotaj radikoj internaciaj. 
Radikojn internaciajn ni akceptu sen konfuzigantaj sangoj por ke ciu povu ilin facile 

+ “Pro tio ni rimarkas, ke se D° Zamenhof donis ekzemplojn en Universala Vortaro , li 
pri tio tute ne parolis en la reguloj, kiujn li donis por la alpreno de teknikaj vortoj.” 

Speaking Utopian 129 

vidual members of academies of university faculties. The charter of the 
Delegation began: 

(1) It is desirable that an international auxiliary language should be 
introduced which, though not intended to replace the natural 
languages in the internal life of nations, should be adapted 

to written and oral intercourse between persons of different 

(2) Such an international language must, in order to fulfill its 
object, satisfy the following conditions: — 

(a) It must be capable of serving the needs of science as well as 
those of daily life, commerce, and general intercourse. 

(b) It must be capable of being easily learnt by all persons of 
average elementary education, especially those belonging 
to the civilised nations of Europe. 

(c) It must not be any one of the living national languages. 67 

Louis Couturat, a logician who specialized on the work of seventeenth- 
century polymath Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, was appointed sec- 
retary of the Delegation, and in that capacity coauthored with mathe- 
matician Leopold Leau the most comprehensive contemporary account 
of constructed languages. Couturat began writing broadly on the need 
for a constructed auxiliary in order to generate more support (and 
therefore authority) for the Delegation, along the way recruiting the 
internationally famous Leipzig chemist Wilhelm Ostwald as a mem- 
ber of the Delegation on 2 6 October 1901. 68 He became its chair on 20 
November 1906. 

As the Delegation gathered information and listened to presenta- 
tions by the advocates and inventors of various constructed languages, 
a pattern emerged. Even as early as 1903, a probable outcome loomed. 
It seemed, wrote Couturat and Leau, that “the more modern projects 
(and according to us the best) converge more and more upon a deter- 
mined type.”* 69 And this should not be too surprising, considering 
how many of these efforts were either sparked by the perceived crisis of 
scientific communication or at least given additional impetus from it. 
Scientists had become used to communicating internationally in sev- 
eral auxiliaries — English, Lrench, and German — and the nomenclature 

' “les projets les plus modernes (et selon nous les meilleurs) convergent de plus en 
plus vers un type determine.” 



and practices they had developed formed the backdrop for the Delega- 
tion’s deliberations. As those conversations headed to a climax in 1907, 
one enthusiast for Zamenhof ’s creation could barely contain his excite- 
ment: “It is anticipated that the language chosen will be Esperanto.” 70 
An international auxiliary for science was at hand. 


The Wizards of Ido 

Ido advere ne esas tam richa kam la Angla, ne tam eleganta kam la 
Franca, ne tam forta kam la Germana, ne tam bela kam la Italiana, ne 
tam nuancoza kam la Rusa, ne tam hemala kam la Dana. Ma merkez 
bone, ke omna ta bona qualesi, quin on prizas e laudas en naturala lingui, 
trovesas nur kande indijeni parolas e skribas oli, ma ne en la boki ed en 
la plumi di stranjeri. Ed Ido povas tre facile esar plu richa kam la Angla 
parolata da Franco, e multe plu eleganta kam la Franca di ula Dano; ol 
esas plu forta kam la Germana di ula Italiano, plu bela kam la Italiana di 
la Angli, plu nuancoza kun la Rusa di la Germani, e plu hemala kam la 
Dana di la Rusi.* 



It is easy to dismiss the enthusiasm over constructed languages for sci- 
ence as the clamor of a handful of zealous amateurs who had little real 
impact. Despite persistent calls for a constructed auxiliary — some of 
which we will observe in the ensuing chapters — we do not live in a 
world where scientists routinely converse in Esperanto. Nonetheless, it 
would be hasty to set aside these debates as an amusing detour in the 
history of the scientific fringe. Worries about the incipient cacophony 
of tongues were repeatedly voiced by a wide range of scientists across an 
array of both popular and scientific periodicals, even if many of these 

' “Ido, in truth, is not as rich as English, not as elegant as French, not as strong as 
German, not as beautiful as Italian, not as nuanced as Russian, not as comfortable 
as Danish. But note well, that all these good qualities, which one appreciates and 
praises in natural languages, are found only when natives speak or write them, but 
not in the mouths or in the pens of strangers. And Ido can very easily be richer than 
the English spoken by a Frenchman, and much more elegant than the French of any 
Dane; it can be stronger than the German of any Italian, more beautiful than the Ital- 
ian of the Englishmen, more nuanced than the Russian of the Germans, and more 
comfortable than the Danish of the Russians.” 



Cassandras were not devotees of Volapiik or its ilk. To be sure, many of 
the advocates of these projects were marginal figures, but others were 
decidedly not. Consider, for example, mathematicians such as Giuseppe 
Peano and Rene de Saussure, or, most famously, chemist Wilhelm Ost- 
wald. Ostwald was an eccentric thinker, granted, but he was also a scien- 
tist with a worldwide reputation, and his decades of advocacy for con- 
structed languages bring us out of the realm of Ludwik Zamenhof and 
Johann Schleyer and into the heart of modern chemistry. 

Ostwald was born in 1853 in Riga, which is the capital of what is 
today Latvia but at the time of his birth was a thriving Baltic port of 
the Russian Empire. Thus, much like Zamenhof in Russian Poland, 
Ostwald grew up in the midst of several languages, specifically Rus- 
sian, Latvian, and German — Ostwald’s native language and the domi- 
nant tongue of the elite servitors in the Tsarist bureaucracy. (Ostwald’s 
father was not among their number; he was a master cooper.) Ostwald 
enrolled at Dorpat University (in today’s Tartu, Estonia) in 1872 and 
quickly established himself as a talented young scientist. In January 1882 
he began to teach at the Polytechnic School in Riga, and in August 
1887 moved to Leipzig University, where he made his career. Starting 
from detailed experimental work in electrochemistry, he achieved his 
reputation through the theoretical framework of physical chemistry — 
the application of classical thermodynamics to chemical problems — 
that he developed with his Leipzig students Svante Arrhenius (a Swede, 
awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903) and Jacobus van’t Hoff 
(a Dutchman, awarded in 1901). (Ostwald’s turn came in 1909.) In 
August 1906, Ostwald retired to his estate, named “Energie,” in Grofi- 
bothen, roughly halfway between Leipzig and Dresden, to work on his 
many projects: developing his philosophy of energeticist monism (the 
notion that everything was essentially energy), initiatives to organize 
international science, and constructed languages. 

Tie last comes as a bit of a surprise to those who know Ostwald for 
his eponymous law of dilution, yet it was an interest of long standing. 
In 1880, at the very dawn of Volapiik, he was introduced to that lan- 
guage by one of his physics professors at Dorpat, Arthur von Ottingen, 
who used it in correspondence with foreigners. 2 Although Ostwald did 
not become a partisan then, his growing commitment to the principle 
of conservation of energy as a guiding doctrine for all areas of life drew 
him back to the issue. In the summer of 1901, while giving some lectures 
at Leipzig on the late eighteenth-century German philosophical move- 
ment Naturphilosophie, he devoted part of a lecture to the problem of 


The Wizards of Ido 

the language barrier from the point of view of energetics. 3 By October 
of that year, Louis Couturat had drafted him to the Delegation for the 
Adoption of an International Auxiliary Language, and Ostwald’s path 
toward becoming what one historian has called “the high priest of Ido” 
began. 4 

To get to Ido, Ostwald passed through Esperanto. In October 1904 
he had published an article in Internacia Scienca Revuo arguing for an 
international language specifically because of the demands of science, 
and in that same month he left Germany to spend several months as an 
exchange professor in the United States. 5 He stumped for Zamenhof ’s 
language across the nation — for example, attending Harvard Univer- 
sity’s student Esperanto club shortly after his arrival — and he was one 
of the spurs for the rapid takeoff of the language in that country. 6 As 
the member of the Delegation with the greatest international reputa- 
tion in any field, and as one of the world’s most prominent scientists and 
popular philosophers, Ostwald doggedly continued his advocacy when 
he returned to Europe. As he wrote to his former student Arrhenius on 
28 December 1906: “I now spend the greatest part of my energy on the 
question of the international auxiliary language.”* 7 (He tried on sev- 
eral occasions to persuade Arrhenius to intercede with the crown prince 
of Sweden to support the Delegation’s initiatives; after a few months, 
Arrhenius politely begged off: “For this reason I must also regrettably 
say that I have no time to spare for Esperanto, as much as I sympathize 
with the idea.” ts ) This frenetic activity was related to his decision to 
abandon his post at Leipzig, as he wrote to Charles Eliot Norton of 
Harvard around the same time: “I have given up my professorship and 
all my official duties and am living as a free lance, spending the better 
part of my time and energy for the propagation of the idea of the inter- 
national auxiliary languages.” 9 

Ostwald’s support of a constructed auxiliary was intimately con- 
nected to his energetic philosophy. In one of his many pamphlets and 
speeches about the language barrier from the first decade of the century, 
he analogized the problem to building a house. Houses are constructed 
for certain ends, but what should one do when the situation changes 
and you need to adapt the residence for a specialized purpose ?: 

*“Den groEten Teil meiner Energie wende ich jetzt an die Frage der internationalen 

^“Aus diesem Grund muss ich auch leider sagen, dass ich keine Zeit fur das Esperanto 
iibrig habe, so viel ich mit der Idee sympathisiere.” 



Admittedly we would not utterly tear down and destroy the old 
house, for too much of the life of our ancestors is stored inside. But 
could we not build alongside it a special house for special ends ?[...] 

We could indeed, to speak again without parables, erect next to the 
native language a general, simple, commercial and scientific lan- 
guage, that could achieve the communication of peoples with each 
other even incomparably more effectively than the telegraph and 
railroad.* 10 

In much the same way, to use another favorite metaphor of Ostwald’s, 
think about how much money is lost in conversion fees at each bor- 
der crossing — a unified currency would simplify exchange and prevent 
waste. The standard railroad gauge also demonstrated the benefits of 
uniformity; most of Europe happily used the same one, and the waste at 
the Russian border caused by transferring to a different gauge was an apt 
analogy for the need for a universal auxiliary. 11 These examples are tell- 
ing: they all draw from his energeticist philosophy, and they all concern 
actual things, not languages in the abstract. Ostwald was familiar with 
the several languages necessary for his chemical research, but he did 
not care for linguistics. He declared, for example, that grammar study 
“does not cultivate, but actually impairs, the power of logical and origi- 
nal thinking.” 12 He wanted an auxiliary because it would save energy; 
he wanted a constructed one because he thought the problem with lan- 
guage learning was not the rules, but the exceptions. 13 

This chapter follows the career of Wilhelm Ostwald among the con- 
structed language enthusiasts during the first decade of his involvement, 
which was also the first of the twentieth century. There are three rea- 
sons why this approach is particularly illuminating of the issue of scien- 
tific languages. First, in 1907 the Delegation (which Ostwald chaired) 
issued an endorsement of a particular constructed language named Ido, 
fracturing the Esperanto community in one of the most seminal events 
of that movement’s history, and leaving aftershocks down to this day. 14 

*“Freilich werden wir das alte Haus nicht ganz und gar abreifien und vernichten, 
dazu steckt eben zu viel von dem Leben unserer Vorfahren darin. Aber konnen wir 
uns nicht daneben ein besonderes Haus fur besondere Zwecke bauen?[. . .] Wir kon- 
nen sehr wohl, um wieder ohne Gleichnis zu sprechen, neben der Muttersprache eine 
allgemeine, einfache Geschafts- und Wissenschaftssprache erbauen, die fur den Ver- 
kehr der Volker untereinander noch unvergleichlich viel nutzlicher wirken kann, als 
Telegraph und Eisenbahn.” 

The Wizards ofldt 


Second, Ostwald allows us to step back from the abstraction of gram- 
mars to explore how personal the issues of language use and coordina- 
tion were. And, finally, Ido offers one of the clearest examples where a 
constructed language not only was proposed as a way to help science, 
but also was argued for as being particularly scientific, Ostwald exempli- 
fied this feature by adapting Ido to chemistry. Although unrealized, 
these hopes were a vital part of the lived experience of being a polyglot 
scientist at the dawn of the century. 

Ostwald, Delegate 

In early 1907, all hopeful eyes turned to Couturat’s Delegation. After 
the Delegation was established to explore the question of an auxiliary — 
their charter, remember, demanded that this not be a living ethnic 
language — Couturat began enrolling a roster of luminaries to study the 
various constructed-language projects, not least of them Ostwald. After 
years of research and the publication of two impressive scholarly mono- 
graphs on the history and linguistic analysis of a plethora of language 
projects, on 15 January 1907 Couturat and Leopold Leau formally sub- 
mitted their materials to the International Association of Academies 
with a request that this body select which project should be the interna- 
tional auxiliary language. On 29 May, the Association punted, by a vote 
of 12 to 8 (with one abstention), declaring itself incompetent to resolve 
the question. According to the charter of the Delegation, it was now up 
to Couturat to convene a working committee to study the question and 
issue its own recommendation. 

The committee was elected, not appointed by Couturat, although 
given that of the 253 votes cast by members and member organizations 
of the Association (out of 351 total), 242 voted for the same twelve 
names, it seems reasonable to infer that most simply voted for the slate 
that the Frenchman had submitted for their consideration. That list was 
impressive: Manuel Barrios, Dean of the Medical School in Lima and 
president of the Peruvian Senate; Jan Ignatius Baudoin de Courtenay, 
professor of linguistics at St. Petersburg University; Emile Boirac, rector 
of the University of Dijon; Charles Bouchard, distinguished physician, 
member of the French Academie des Sciences; Lorand (better known 
as Roland) Ebtvos, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; 
Wilhelm Forster, chair of the International Committee of Weights 
and Measures; Colonel George Harvey, editor of the North American 
Review, Otto Jespersen, the prominent professor of linguistics from 



Copenhagen; Spyridon Lambros, former rector of the University of 
Athens (and later very briefly the prime minister of Greece); Constan- 
tin Le Paige, mathematician at Liege and director of the Scientific Sec- 
tion of the Royal Academy of Belgium; and Hugo Schuchardt, a lin- 
guist member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Wilhelm 
Ostwald joined them as chair. Due to inabilities to attend, resignations, 
and other perennial banes of large panels, the committee later substi- 
tuted in another intimidating crew: Gustav Rados, of the Hungarian 
Academy of Sciences; William Thomas Stead, editor of the London Re- 
view of Reviews ; and mathematician Giuseppe Peano of Turin, the in- 
ventor of Latino sine flexione. Since Bouchard, Harvey, and Stead could 
not attend, they were regularly represented by Paul Rodet (an Esperant- 
ist physician from Paris), Paul D. Hugon (lexicographer), and Father 
Ernest Dimnet (a teacher of modern languages in Paris). At those meet- 
ings Boirac could not attend, Belgian pacifist Gaston Moch took his 
place. Couturat and Leau, as secretaries, raised the total to eighteen. 15 
This was an impressive array of scholars from diverse national, linguis- 
tic, and disciplinary backgrounds, and hopes were high that by the time 
they sat for their meeting in mid-October 1907, they would resolve the 

Ostwald found it hard going. Until October, most of the work was 
conducted by correspondence, but in the marathon sessions of Octo- 
ber the members interrogated a long series of inventors of constructed 
languages or their appointed defenders. (Zamenhof could not travel 
to Paris, so he appointed Louis de Beaufront, the conservative French 
Esperantist, to represent his language.) As perhaps should not be sur- 
prising, the language barrier was a problem, since the native languages of 
the delegates were Danish, English, French, German, Italian, and Polish. 
Most of the discussions took place in French, because only Couturat 
among the French members had a decent command of German. This 
caused difficulties for Ostwald, since he his understanding of the lan- 
guage was drawn “partly from school memories that had not taken very 
well, partly from the reading of scientific articles in this language, that 
as a result of much practice had in fact stuck fluently enough.”* 16 Bau- 
doin de Courtenay insisted on speaking German, which was otherwise 

*“teils auf den Schulerinnerungen, die nicht sehr eingehend waren, teils auf dem 
Lesen wissenschaftlicher Abhandlungen in dieser Sprache, das sich zufolge vieler 
Ubung allerdings gelaufig genug vollzog.” 

The Wizards ofldt 


heard only when interviewing the inventor of the language Parla, Karl 
Ludwig Spitzer. Peano, characteristically, sometimes spoke in Latino 
sine flexione . 17 (Apparently no one complained.) Otto Jespersen, whose 
recollections — translated from the Danish by David Stoner — provide 
some of our best information about the deliberations, noted that de- 
spite the challenges Ostwald “presided over the negotiations with 
superb skill .” 18 

Despite entertaining many language projects, Jespersen recalled that 
the real decision came down to Esperanto or Idiom Neutral. Esperanto 
seems an obvious candidate, given the vigor of its movement and its 
arguable success in serving as precisely the kind of auxiliary the Dele- 
gation was supposed to endorse. But Idiom Neutral was also a serious 
contender in early 1907. Jespersen himself “was rather inclined to vote 
for Idiom Neutral with a number of amendments.” 19 The language 
was the unlikely descendant of Volapiik, issued in 1902 by the Interna- 
tional Academy of the Universal Language (Akademi Internasional de 
Lingu Universal), the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the defunct 
Volapiik Academy. Idiom Neutral had a more “naturalistic” feel than 
Esperanto — that is, it tended to resemble ethnic languages, particularly 
Romance ones, in appearance and use — but that also meant it displayed 
apparent irregularities. 20 For Jespersen, Idiom Neutral was “the first to 
carry out this principle [of maximum internationality] scientifically for 
the whole language.” 21 But Neutral also lacked broad support: in 1907, 
there were only four groups of Neutralists, located in St. Petersburg, 
Nuremberg, Brussels, and San Antonio, Texas. 22 The rest of the Delega- 
tion was inclined to Esperanto. 

But they were not that happy about it. (Except for Boirac, who was 
a militant stalwart for the language, but missed the final deliberations 
and was thus represented by Moch.) As Couturat wrote to Ostwald on 
20 November 1906, almost a year before the final vote, he expected that 
the decision of the committee would be “to adopt Esperanto in prin- 
ciple, on the condition that important corrections and improvements 
for science and for practical utility be introduced.”* For his part, he 
“would gladly accept present-day Esperanto if only certain peculiari- 
ties in syntax and word-formation were cleaned up and certain poorly 

' “das Esperanto im Prinzip anzunehmen, mit der Auflage, die fur die Wissenschaft 
und fur die Praxis notigen Korrekturen und Verbesserungen einzufiigen.” 

i 3 8 


chosen word roots were changed.”* 23 The objections that circled around 
Esperanto were by now familiar: the unusual letters, the accusative, and 
Couturat’s worries about word-formation (about which more in a mo- 

Ostwald was beginning to chafe at Esperanto for other reasons. In 
May 1907, the chemist traveled to Dresden for the second congress of 
German Esperantists, accompanied by his second daughter, who had 
also learned Esperanto. The event left him “a little shocked, by what 
kind of shipmates I had undertaken the voyage with.” 1 It was one thing 
that the participants doggedly defended the ridiculous alphabet. The 
real clincher was how they treated the Fundamento : 

And an older woman, who played a leading role as a very early ad- 
herent to the cause, led me into an adjoining room to make visible 
to me the Esperantists’ attitude on this question. There one found 
against the wall a table with a festive green velvet tablecloth (green 
is the heraldic color of Esperanto); in the middle there lay a magnifi- 
cent copy of the ‘Fundamento’ bound in green leather with a hand- 
written dedication by the Master [Zamenhof ] and two silver lamps 
with burning candles stood on both sides. The whole thing was an 
altar dedicated to the cult of the Fundamento’s untouchability. 

This religious veneration, combined with the blind fanaticism so 
often attached to religious movements, is very widespread among 
the adherents of Esperanto. 124 

*“ich wiirde gern das aktuelle Esperanto akzeptieren, wenn es nur von einigen Eigen- 
tiimlichkeiten in der Syntax und der Wortbildung gereinigt und einige schlecht 
gewahlte Wortwurzeln verandert wiirden.” 

“rin wenig erschrocken, mit welchen Schiffsgenossen ich die Reise unternommen 

1 “ Und ein altere Dame, welche als sehr friihzeitige Anhangerin der Sache eine fiihr- 
ende Rolle spielte, fiihrte mich in ein angrenzendes Zimmer, um mir die Einstellung 
der Esperantisten zu dieser Frage anschaulich zu machen. Dort befand sich an der 
Wand ein Tisch mit einer feierlichen griinen Sammetdecke (Grim ist die Wappen- 
farbe des Esperanto); in der Mitte lag darauf ein in grimes Leder gebundenes Pracht- 
exemplar des ‘Fundamento’ mit eigenhandiger Widmung des Meisters und an beiden 
Seiten standen zwei silberne Leuchter mit brennden Kerzen. Das ganze war ein Altar, 
geweiht dem Kultus der Unberiihrbarkeit des Fundamento. 

Diese religiose Verehrung, verkniipft mit dem blinden Fanatismus, der den reli- 
giosen Bewegungen so oft anhaftet, ist unter den Anhangern des Esperanto sehr ver- 

The Wizards ofldt 


By June, Ostwald felt he could no longer defend unaltered Esperanto; 
it had become “urgently necessary to liberate Esperanto from certain of 
its greatest imperfections .”* 25 

It was in this frame of mind that Ostwald arrived in Paris in October 
1907 to attend the meetings of the Delegation committee at the Col- 
lege de France, an ordeal that lasted for a total of eighteen lengthy and 
intellectually taxing sessions. One day late in the month, after a series 
of especially deadlocked debates, the committee arrived to the meet- 
ing room and found, laid out before their places, typewritten copies of 
a new constructed-language project written by an anonymous inven- 
tor who called himself “Ido.” Couturat told the committee that he had 
promised not to reveal the author’s identity, but that he guaranteed that 
it was neither him nor anyone on the committee . 26 What they found 
in the report was encouraging, even exciting: Ido proposed a system- 
atic language that strongly resembled Esperanto in basic principles, but 
that took seriously many of the critiques that had been advanced since 
the 1890s, especially those in Couturat and Leau’s 1903 volume on con- 
structed languages. Gone were the circumflexed letters, the compulsory 
accusative, and several other sins that had given members pause. Jesper- 
sen was particularly pleased, thinking that with Ido’s “middle course” 
between Idiom Neutral and Esperanto “we had come close to a solution 
that might satisfy everyone, even the Esperantists .” 27 

Thus, on 24 October 1907, the Delegation voted unanimously to ac- 
cept Esperanto as the universal auxiliary language “on the condition 
that certain modifications be made by the permanent Commission 
in the sense defined by the conclusions of the secretaries’ report and 
the project of Ido, in seeking an agreement with the Esperantist lin- 
guistic committee.” 1 28 The decision was thus for Esperanto, but it was 
not unconditional. The delegates who voted for this proposal left the 
meeting convinced that Ido had simply proposed a correction within 
Esperanto. As the Esperanto community began to react to the decision 
over the next six months, what had been presented as an Esperanto re- 
form began to be seen by both orthodox Esperantists and reformists 

' “dringend notig, Esperanto von einigen seiner grossten Unvollkommenheiten zu 

*“sous la reserve de certaines modifications a executer par la Commission perma- 
nente dans le sens defini par les conclusions du rapport des secretaires et par le projet 
de Ido, en cherchant a s’entendre avec le Comite linguistique esperantiste.” 



as a separate language. In 1909, Swiss pastor Friedrich Schneeberger, 
an active advocate, toyed with the names Linguido (meaning “descen- 
dant language”) and Interlinguo before settling on Ilo — which never 
quite stuck. 29 Couturat that same year rejected the common moni- 
ker “Reform-Esperanto” in favor of the official name: “Linguo inter- 
naciona di la Delegitaro ’.’ i0 Neither had their way, for as an apocalyptic 
schism fractured the Esperanto world, the name “Ido” morphed from 
an authorial pseudonym into what even its supporters considered an 
“absurd” and “stupid name” for a new language. 31 

The Oedipal Language 

What was Ido ? How did it work? Its advocates were quite sincere when 
they thought of it (in autumn 1907) as simply a dialect of Esperanto — 
as Otto Jespersen would have it, a “purified Esperanto” 32 — for the two 
bore very strong similarities, although as their partisans split socially, 
they in turn began to separate linguistically. Indeed, some aspects of 
the language resemble the 1894 reform effort within Esperanto which 
had been rejected by the readership of La EsperantistoP Ido was and 
remains mutually intelligible to Esperantists, who can learn to speak it 
fluently in a few hours. 34 

The basic framework does nothing to hide its debt to Esperanto: 
given a root, all nouns derived from it end in 0, adjectives in a, adverbs 
in e\ and the present, past, and future tenses of verbs are marked by the 
familiars, is, and or. Visually, however, the language strikes the reader 
as rather more Latinate. Consider this sentence from the epigraph taken 
from Jespersen: 

Ma merkez bone, ke omna ta bona qualesi, quin on prizas e laudas 

en naturala lingui, trovesas nur kande indijeni parolas e skribas oli, 

ma ne en la bold ed en la plumi di stranjeri. 

There are a number of differences beyond slightly variant roots. Plu- 
rals are indicated by i, not j {stranjeri). Commands, as in the second 
word, are indicated by the ez suffix, resembling French and differenti- 
ating the imperative from the conditional in a way Esperanto does not. 
Adjectives no longer had to agree in number (see bona above, modify- 
ing the plural qualesi ), and the accusative was only to be used in cases 
where the object preceded the grammatical subject, which was rare, em- 
phatic style. But perhaps most obvious is that the circumflexed letters 

The Wizards ofldt 

o 141 

are gone; the sound that Esperanto expressed withy is here written /, and 
the Esperanto j is replaced by y. Idists argued this made the language 
more recognizable to the European reader, as well as requiring no spe- 
cial typography. Another significant change was the abandonment of 
Zamenhof ’s a priori table of correlatives to represent relative pronouns 
and interrogative words; ke is retained for “that,” but quin and kande are 
added, clearly derived from Latin roots. This is more naturalistic, but 
also more irregular — one cannot get something for nothing. 

If a few morphological and lexical substitutions were all that was 
involved in Ido, why did the anonymous author bother to construct 
it ? Or, more to the point, what was so attractive about this system to 
the members of the Delegation committee that they opted for this re- 
form project over the “primitive Esperanto” that thousands were al- 
ready using? The answer lies in the philosophy built into the grammar 
and lexicon. Three points stood out for those-who-would-come-to-be- 
known-as-Idists as evidence of Ido’s superiority: univocality, interna- 
tionality, and reversibility. 

As Couturat described the first principle: “The logical rule of the 
international language is the principle of univocality , formulated by 
Mr. Ostwald: each notion or element of a notion should be expressed 
once, and only once, and always by the same ‘morpheme’ (word ele- 
ment); in other words, there should be a univocal correspondence be- 
tween the elements of ideas and the word elements.”* 35 This was often 
cited as Ostwald’s major theoretical contribution to constructed lan- 
guages, and the chemist invoked it frequently. For example, in a 1911 
German article on the application of Ido to chemistry (to which we 
shall return), he declared that “[i]n Ido, where no bad habits exist yet, 
one can from the beginning deploy the principle of univocality, so that 
every concept corresponds only to a single word, and each word relates 
only to a single concept.” 1 36 The notion is appealing enough: it is con- 

*“La regie logique de la langue internationale est 1 1 principe d’univocite , formule par 
M. Ostwald: chaque notion ou element de notion doit etre exprime une fois, et une 
seule, et toujours par le meme ‘morpheme’ (element de mot); en d’autres termes, il 
doit y avoir une correspondance univoque entre les elements d’idees et les elements 
de mots.” 

+ “Im Ido, wo noch keine schlechten Gewohnheiten bestehen, kann man von vorn- 
herein das Prinzip der Eindeutigkeit durchfuhren, so dass jedem Begriff nur ein 
einziges Wort zugeordnet wird, und dass jedes Wort nur einen einzigen Begriff 



fusing in English that the single noun “cast” can refer to a medical treat- 
ment for a broken arm, a roll of dice, or a group of actors in a play. 

How should one build this univocal vocabulary? Ido proclaimed a 
systematic method based on the principle of internationality, by which, 
as Jespersen explained, Ido “is nothing but a systematic turning to ac- 
count of everything that is already international, that root being chosen 
in each case which will be most readily understood by the greatest num- 
ber of civilized people.” 37 (“Civilized” was a key word in these discus- 
sions. Chinese, Hindustani, and Arabic were not part of the root stock 
from which these “international” roots were drawn. This exclusion was 
so self-evident to participants as to go mostly unmentioned. 38 ) Jesper- 
sen elevated this principle into an easily stated maxim: “ That inter- 
national language is best ivhich offers the greatest facility to the great- 
est numb erf . .] The choice of the words for our neutral language is, 
therefore, a pure question of arithmetic.” 39 But one must not simply 
add up the number of speakers of a language (in Western and Central 
Europe, German would be the winner every time), but instead count 
the roots and divergent forms of the word for the number of “civilized” 
speakers, which meant that Spanish, Italian, French, and the French ele- 
ments in English began to weigh very heavily, and endowed Ido with a 
more sharply Romance, or even simply French, character than Espe- 
ranto — a fact that some Idists felt needed defending but which Cou- 
turat (a Frenchman) saw as entirely unproblematic. 40 For him, despite 
its resemblance to French, it was “nothing other than a purified and 
idealized extract, a quintessence of the European languages.”* 41 Zamen- 
hof selected Esperanto’s root vocabulary in a rough approximation to 
this idea but sometimes arbitrarily. (Why is “bird” in Esperanto birdo'i 
In Ido it is ucelo, derived from French and Italian.) Esperantists would 
have to learn a reasonable quantity of new words. 

The final principle, that of reversibility, is most clearly attributable 
to Couturat’s influence, dating from his 1903 critique of the arbitrary 
way Esperanto derived words. Kroni, for example, means “to crown,” 
but what does the simple derived noun krono mean? Is it “crown,” or 
is it “coronation” ? How would one derive “corona” ? And could you 
go backward from a given noun to derive the root verb? This offended 
Couturat’s logician sensibilities, and he championed Ido’s alternative: 
“Every derivation should be reversible, that is to say, if one moves from 

" “n'est pas autre chose qu’un extrait purifie et idealise, une quintessence des langues 

The Wizards ofldt 


one word to another (in the same family) by means of a certain rule, one 
should inversely move from the second to the first by means of a rule the 
exact inverse of the former .”* 42 The impact of this principle on the suf- 
fix system of Esperanto offered perhaps the widest divergence with its 
progenitor. Recall that the suffix id means “descendant, derived from,” 
and so Ido was indeed “that which was derived” from Esperanto — the 
question of how far it had evolved (or devolved) from the parent was 
the fundamental issue in the schism. 

That a schism within the ranks of Esperanto was even possible was 
unthinkable in the middle of 1907, and a contemporary manifesto 
preened that “Esperanto itself is admirably organized, and there are 
no factions or symptoms of dissension.” 43 Almost immediately upon 
the publication of the Delegation’s decision on 25 October this turned 
out to be manifestly untrue. Ostwald, as chair of the group and widely 
acknowledged as nonpartisan, assumed the task of negotiating with 
Zamenhof himself, and he wrote to the “Majstro” on 2 November, 
trying to win him over to reforms by arguing that Volapiik had per- 
ished because of failure to reform itself. 44 Zamenhof ’s response, two 
days later, was blistering: how could someone as intelligent as Ostwald 
not understand “that Volapiik failed precisely through reforms! 4 45 The 
memory of Volapiik’s rapid disintegration haunted the schism, and in 
almost every article in the sustained polemic one finds references to 
Schleyer’s doomed experiment. 

In 1903, years before he became “the infallible pope of a small schis- 
matic church” 46 — that is, Ido — Louis Couturat offered this balanced 
judgment of Volapiik’s rise and fall: “Thus Volapiik succeded because 
it seemed to respond to a very sharply felt need, above all in the com- 
mercial world; and it failed due to its intrinsic vices, the inflexible dog- 
matism of its inventor, and the disunion of its adherents.” 4 47 Here were 
two explanations: internal flaws and social disunion. Idists tended to 
finger the first, Esperantists the second. If Volapiik died because of its 
failure to reform, then the Esperantists should cling to the olive branch 

*“Toute derivation doit etre reversible , c’est-a-dire, si l’on passe d’un mot a un autre 
(d’une meme famille), en vertu d’une certaine regie, on doit passer inversement du 
second au premier en vertu d’une regie exactement inverse de la precedente.” 

*“dass Volapiik gerade durch die Reformen zu Grunde gegangen ist.” 

*“Ainsi le Volapiik a reussi, parce qu’il paraissait repondre a un besoin tres vivement 
ressenti, surtout dans le monde commercial; et il a echoue a cause de ses vices in- 
trinseques, du dogmatisme inflexible de son inventeur, et de la desunion de ses ad- 



the Delegation handed to them — and this was an opinion that Ost- 
wald himself espoused. 48 But there was strong evidence that Volapiik 
was functioning fine, as at the Paris conference of 1889, until reformers 
such as Auguste Kerckhofts proposed messing with it, leading to the 

“[SJooner or later you will, however, unfortunately be convinced,” 
Zamenhof responded to Ostwald on 4 November, “that your work has 
achieved nothing positive, but instead unforseeably much that is nega- 
tive.”* Zamenhof blamed Couturat, who “has presented the voices of 
all ‘unsatisfied’ Esperantists to you, and you naturally do not hear the 
voices of all the others. — You thereby naturally have a certain ‘optical 
illusion’ and find yourselves under the impression as if all Esperantists 
were reform-minded.’^ 49 Ostwald replied on 12 November by question- 
ing Zamenhof’s assumptions: “The most essential point of our differ- 
ence of opinion is that you consider the present Esperantists as a people, 
a complete organism with its own will. I on the contrary[. . .] am cer- 
tain that in the present state of the matter everything depends on indi- 
vidual leaders. ” + 50 Ostwald’s implied analogy was to the structure of the 
scientific community, which Ostwald saw as decisively guided by the 
wisdom of leading members (such as himself). He continued his con- 
ciliatory approach with an open appeal, dated 21 December and pub- 
lished in Internacia Scienca Revuo\ “But I cannot accept the supposi- 
tion that there exists an opposition between the body of Esperantists 
and the Delegation. By the fundamental decision to choose Esperanto, 
we were made Esperantists, and there exist many differences of opinion 
ivithin the body of Esperantists, among which we represent a progressive 

*“friiher oder spater werden Sie sich aber leider uberzeugen, dass Ihre Arbeit nichts 
Positives, dafiir aber unabsehbar viel Negatives geschaffen hat.” 

*“Er hat Ihnen die Stimmen aller ‘unzufriedenen’ Esperantisten vorgestellt, und die 
Stimmen aller anderen horen Sie natiirlich nicht. — Sie haben daher natiirlich eine 
gewisse ‘optische Tauschung’ und befinden sich unter dem Eindruck als waren alle 
Esperantisten reformistisch gesinnt.” 

*“Der wesentlichste Punkt unserer Meinungsverschiedenheit ist, dass Sie die gegen- 
wartigen Esperantisten als ein Volk, einen geschlossenen Organismus mit eigenem 
Willen betrachten. Ich dagegen,[. . .] bin sicher, dass im gegenwartigen Stadium der 
Sache alles von einzelnen Fuhrern abhdngt 

^“Sed mi ne povas akcepti la supozon, ke ekzistas kontraueco inter Esperantistaro kaj 
Delegitaro. Per la fundamenta decido elekti Esperanton, ni farigis Esperantistoj kaj 
tiel ekzistas pleje diferencoj de opinio interne de la Esperantistaro , kies progreseman 
partion ni reprezentas.” 

The Wizards ofldt 


At first, the editors of the Revuo considered compromise with the 
Delegation, publishing a declaration in the December issue signed 
by thirty-three academics (including the editor Rene de Saussure and 
Th. Renard of the chemical nomenclature discussed in the last chap- 
ter), which defended Zamenhof’s language but ended on a concilia- 
tory note. 52 But by January 1908, the same set of scholars had come to 
think of Esperanto not as just an international auxiliary, but as some- 
thing close to an ethnic language. “Firstly, Esperanto belongs to the 
Esperantists,” they announced, “in the same way as the English language 
belongs to the Englishmen. Consequently nobody will be able to im- 
pose reforms upon us against our will.”* 53 On 18 January Zamenhof 
wrote to Ostwald that there was no room for compromise — the Funda- 
mento would remain in force. Eperantists mounted their own critiques 
of Ido’s grammar and lexicon. 54 In 1911, the president of the Esperantist 
Academy Maurice Rollet de l’lsle issued a bon mot reminiscent of his 
countryman Voltaire: “if Ido did not exist, it would have been necessary 
to invent it in order to show that Esperanto is preferable to it.” 1 55 Espe- 
rantist groups expelled members interested in the new language, ce- 
menting the social rift and constructing Ido as a competing language. 56 
Later, it became the policy of the global Esperanto community to avoid 
mention of Ido. 57 

The anathematization of Ido had a great deal to do with the circum- 
stances of its birth, which Esperantists saw as rooted in betrayal. Just 
who was the inventor “Ido”? Ostwald wrote Couturat on 14 Novem- 
ber, within three weeks of the decision, demanding to know Ido’s iden- 
tity. 58 Even earlier, Zamenhof — noting how Louis de Beaufront, his 
chosen representative and well-known arch-conservative on reformist 
questions, had quickly endorsed the Delegation’s decision — wrote to 
leading French Esperantist Hippolyte Sebert on 27 October in equal 
befuddlement (as translated by Marjorie Boulton, Zamenhof’s biog- 

I know nothing about the person of “Ido” and have never seen his 

grammar. I have not received any kind of letter from Couturat for 

three weeks. The behaviour of M. de Beaufront seems to me very sus- 

*“Unue, Esperanto apartenas al la Esperantistoj tute same kiel la lingvo angla apar- 
tenas al la Angloj. Konsekvence neniu povos trudi al ni reformojn kontrau nia volo.” 
*“si l’ldo n’existait pas, il eut fallu l’inventer pour montrer que l’esperanto lui est pre- 



picious; to show my trust in him, I chose him as my representative 
before the Delegation, and he, not asking me at all, suddenly and 
too startlingly went over to the reformers and wrote a letter to me, 
saying that Esperanto must certainly die, that, after five years, only 
the memory of Esperanto will remain, and so on.” 

Zamenhof ’s suspicions turned out to be on the mark, as Otto Jespersen 
soon discovered. One day, he received a letter from Couturat addressed 
to “mon cher ami” and he read on, surprised by the uncharacteristic 
intimacy of the salutation. From the context, he realized that the let- 
ter was actually intended for de Beaufront, and it revealed the latter to 
be the author of Ido! Jespersen was shocked: “At one stroke it changed 
my view both of him and of Couturat and dismayed me to such a de- 
gree that in the first sleepless nights I seriously considered completely 
severing my connection with the idea of an auxiliary language .” 60 He 
informed Ostwald, who shared his outrage but was somewhat calmer. 
After Couturat confirmed it, both urged him to persuade de Beaufront 
to reveal himself. 

In May 1908, an article penned by “Ido” appeared in de Beaufront’s 
bilingual journal L’Esperantiste, the flagship of the French movement. 
Ido claimed that he had submitted his proposal to the committee be- 
cause he was afraid that Esperanto would face “rejection pure and 
simple.”* De Beaufront appended a commentary of equal length which 
began with the confession: “The declaration that you have just read is 
mine .” 1 61 The Esperantist community was apoplectic that Zamenhof ’s 
hand-picked representative to defend Esperanto before the Delegation 
would turn out to be Brutus, even Judas Iscariot . 62 (For the record, 
Jespersen noted that de Beaufront had “really defended Zamenhof ’s 
language with great eloquence and skill.” 63 ) Until the 1930s, most of 
the Esperanto intelligentsia believed de Beaufront’s self-unmasking, 
claiming that Ido strongly resembled Adjuvanto, the language that the 
Frenchman had abandoned in the 1890s in favor of Esperanto . 64 (It is 
unclear how they came to this assessment, as no one seems to have seen 
a copy of Adjuvanto, which de Beaufront claimed he had destroyed.) 
He was unseated from his presidency of the French Esperanto society 

*“le rejet pur et simple/la puran kaj simplan forjeton.” 

*“La declaration qu’on vient de lire est de moi./ La deklaro, kiun oni jus legis, estas 

The Wizards of Ido 147 

on 8 September 1908. To be an Idist meant by definition not to be an 

Today, however, Esperantist opinion is almost universal that de 
Beaufront had lied even in his confession. In the 1930s, Ric Berger, a 
devotee of Occidental (a constructed auxiliary published in 1922 by 
Edgar de Wahl), argued that in fact Couturat himself — the secretary 
of the Delegation and therefore proscribed from submitting his own 
plan for consideration — was the author of Ido, and de Beaufront was 
his cover. 65 Later Esperantist histories consider de Beaufront’s assump- 
tion of authorship “almost certainly bogus,” and assume that Coutu- 
rat was the author, based on Berger’s relatively weak evidence. 66 Ost- 
wald continued to believe that de Beaufront was Ido, as did most Idists, 
in part because de Beaufront’s assumption of authorship was a signal 
to Esperantists that conversion to reform would be sensible. 67 Perhaps 
the strangest aspect of this disputed authorship is why de Beaufront 
might have agreed to protect Couturat. In any event, it is clear that no 
matter who invented the language, Couturat adopted it as his own; he 
left his imprint on almost every page of the chief Idist journal Progreso, 
while penning a host of articles viciously attacking Esperanto and Espe- 
rantists. 68 

It would take us too far afield from the question of a scientific aux- 
iliary to explore every charge and countercharge of the assembled vit- 
riol. To give but a single example of Couturat ’s approach, he routinely 
denounced Zamenhof ’s resistance to Ido as a commercial ploy, stat- 
ing that the Majstro was “a person bound by contract to a publishing 
firm, which has acted and now acts to monopolize Esperanto”* through 
maintaining the circumflexes. 69 With language closely bordering on 
anti-Semitic, Couturat again and again insinuated that Esperanto was 
a money-making proposition, and that the movement was “more and 
more dominated by men of action, that is to say by men of business and 
of intrigue, politicians and shopkeepers.” 1 70 Ido’s origins in the schol- 
arly Delegation, on the other hand, “excludes any hypothesis and any 
mercantile intention.” * 71 ( Zamenhof denied these allegations in a letter 

*“esa s persone ligita per kontrato a la librista firmo, qua penis i penas monopoligar 

*“de plus en plus domine par les hommes d’action, c’est-a-dire par les hommes d’af- 
faires et d’intrigue, les politiciens et les boutiquiers.” 

*“exclut toute hypothese et toute intention mercantile.” 



to Ostwald; his days were spent treating eye diseases in the poor neigh- 
borhoods of Warsaw, and his involvement in the Esperanto movement 
took up his very limited spare time. 72 ) 

As it became increasingly clear that the Esperantists would not re- 
form their language along the lines of Ido, Couturat erected his own 
infrastructure for his language. In February 1909 the Uniono di l’Amiki 
di la Lingva Internaciona was established in Zurich to propagandize for 
Ido, with Ostwald elected as honorary president on 24 May. Ido soon 
began to prosper. It has been estimated that roughly 20% of the leading 
figures in the Esperanto movement — journalists, intellectuals, public 
figures — adopted the new language, but only 3%-4% of the rank-and- 
file. 73 The new language spread across the ocean as well. The Interna- 
tionalist was quickly released by the Interlinguo publishing company as 
an American Ido quarterly based in Seattle and edited by A. H. Mackin- 
non. By February 1910 it transformed into a monthly issued from Phila- 
delphia, with its production values noticeably improved. In August 
1910, it changed identity yet again, being absorbed into The Interna- 
tional Language, edited by Gerald Moore, Esq., out of London. By 1912, 
the Idists boasted they had 150 societies worldwide (although, since the 
Uniono had only 600 subscribers at that moment, the claim requires a 
grain of salt). 74 Ido had ceased to be a reform movement within Espe- 
ranto, and became instead a competitor from without. 

Ido for Science! 

The Delegation at first couched their approach to the Esperantists’ 
Lingva Komitato as a reform program along linguistic lines, and they 
stressed grammatical critiques: the difficult-to-parse mutations of the 
roots, the a priori table of correlatives, the orthography, and so on. But 
behind these points was a more general objection to the social struc- 
ture of Esperanto, and in particular the Fundamento as the “unchange- 
able” core of the language. I discussed in the previous chapter how the 
Fundamento was established as the bedrock of the language at the 1905 
congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer in order to keep the language coherent 
against the natural mutating forces of ordinary use. Yet this constraint 
chafed at some Esperantists, especially those who were linguistically 
curious and drawn to the Delegation’s project. 

Idists regarded the Fundamento, which many Esperantists had come 
to see as the core of the movement, as objectionable for three reasons, all 
linked to their vision of Ido as a scientific auxiliary. The first argument 

The Wizards ofldt 


was empirical: no ethnic language had a single text to ground their entire 
grammar and vocabulary, and so Ido, scientifically derived from such 
languages both grammatically and sociologically, would have no need 
of one .' 5 The next argument was visible already in Ostwald’s revulsion 
to the altar at the Dresden Esperantist’s home: it smacked too much of 
religious fanaticism, not the sobriety of modernity. Ido “does not have 
a holy book; it does not have any other Fundamento, as Mr. Jespersen 
excellently said, than its scientific principles, on the one hand, and on 
the other the collection of European languages from which it draws its 
material, and which constitute for it the largest and most stable objec- 
tive base .”* 76 Finally, Darwinian theory indicated that the surest path 
to stability was through evolutionary pressure, as Richard Lorenz ex- 
plained: “There is, therefore, only one adequate criterion of the stability 
of an international language, namely, that of suitability or adaptation to 
its purpose, and we maintain that it is only by means of continuous re- 
forms and improvements that it will succeed in satisfying this criterion 
and so finally attain to stability .” 77 

The Idists not only argued that Esperanto’s devotion to the Funda- 
mento was antiscientific, they countered that Ido was a uniquely sci- 
entific language, and that argument too was rooted in three planks: 
method, technology, and scientific use. Couturat, Jespersen, and other 
leading Idists devoted many pages to claiming that the intrinsic logic of 
Ido’s foundational principles guaranteed that it “possesses the advan- 
tage over other languages that it is based on rational scientific principles 
and, therefore, [one] need not fear that some fine day it will be replaced 
by another and sensibly different language .” 78 Or, as Couturat would 
have it: “In a word, the work of the Committee is the substitution of the 
scientific, critical, and progressive method for the empirical method of 
invention, more or less genial but always arbitrary .’^ 79 

Such claims remained relatively abstract. It was when thinking of 
language as a technology — that is, a tool to accomplish certain ends — 
that the Idists more concretely linked their linguistic project to the sci- 

*“n’a pas de livre saint; il n’a pas d’autre Fundamento , comme l’a dit excellemment 
M. Jespersen, que ses principes scientifiques, d’une part, et d’autre part l’ensemble 
des langues europeennes auxquelles il emprunte ses materiaux, et qui constituent 
pour lui la base objective la plus large et la plus stable.” 

*“En un mot, l’ceuvre du Comite est la substitution de la methode scientifique, cri- 
tique et progressive, a la methode d’invention empirique, plus ou moins geniale, mais 
toujours arbitraire.” 



entific developments of the day, such as the metric system. 80 The argu- 
ment went further than standardization. Much as Ostwald used the 
telegraph and the railroad to argue, on energetic principles, that a con- 
structed auxiliary would be best suited to the modern world, so Idists 
invoked the constant improvements in technology to demonstrate, by 
analogy, that Ido was the latest model of an artificial language. “Ido 
is to Esperanto,” wrote Couturat, “as today’s bicycle is to an old bi- 
cycle.”* 81 Ido had evolved from Esperanto, becoming better adapted 
to its environment. “No great invention, no great scientific discovery, 
ever sprang into the world full-fledged,” wrote Otto Jespersen in 1909. 
“[B]y setting to work on scientific principles it is possible to devise a 
much better language of a much more truly international character, ‘not 
perfect,’ perhaps, ‘but always perfectible.’” 82 Indeed, despite Couturat ’s 
evident interest in Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, 
American Idists pushed for a strictly Darwinian understanding: “ Vola- 
puk [sic], Idiom Neutral, Esperanto and Ido are but progressive steps 
toward the solution of the problem. As with everything else so with 
international language schemes, only the fittest will survive!” 83 

A language would prove that it was fittest to survive in the competi- 
tive world of science when scientists actually used it. Couturat crowed 
in 1910 that “Science has spoken: the international language can he none 
other than Ido, because that is the only scientific language, in a double 
sense: because it is the work of the science of linguistics and it is the 
only one founded on fixed and precise principles; and because it is the 
only one which is appropriate for scientific use, and which has adapted 
to the international terminology of the sciences.” 1 84 To a certain extent, 
this was true. One could find some American articles written in Ido on 
refrigeration technology and chiropractics, and Couturat labored dili- 
gently over a 1910 mathematical lexicon that translated English, French, 
German, and Italian terminology into Ido. 85 But the strongest argu- 
ment for the scientific utility of Ido came from the central science of the 
day, chemistry, and the man who would make chemistry Idist was none 
other than Wilhelm Ostwald. 

*“l’Ido est a l’Esperanto ce que la bicyclette est au vieux bicycle.” 
t “La science a prononce: la langue internationale nepeut etre que Uido , parce que c’est 
la seule langue scientifique, et cela en double sens: parce quelle est l’ceuvre de la sci- 
ence linguistique et est la seule fondee sur des principes fixes et precis; et parce qu’elle 
est la seule qui soit appropriee aux usages scientifiques, et qui s’adapte a la terminolo- 
gie deja internationale des sciences.” 

The Wizards ofldt 

o 1 5 1 

On 20 April 1910, after the schism was complete, Ostwald penned 
yet another letter to van’t Hoff noting that his “interests had moved 
ever further away from chemistry. Internationalism, pacifism, and cul- 
tural energetics are my problems now.”* 86 As determined as he was to 
support constructed languages, and in particular Ido, Ostwald had 
spent much of 1908 wavering in his commitment, disillusioned by the 
behavior of Zamenhof and the Esperantists in resisting reform, but also 
that of Couturat in promoting it. He wrote in frustration to Jespersen 
on 25 February 1908: “The individual who is driving me to a resigna- 
tion is Couturat. He has the makeup of vulcanized rubber: he absorbs 
every hit, but as soon as these leave off, he assumes his earlier shape.” f 87 
Couturat wore down opponents through constant correspondence, and 
Ostwald claimed he could no longer stomach it. Jespersen talked him 

And just in time, too. On n December 1909, Ostwald was awarded 
the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and he promptly donated at least $ 40,0 00 
of the prize money to the Uniono and other Ido projects. (This was in 
1909 dollars; in 2014, this comes to roughly $1 million.) Ostwald in- 
sisted he had “not one penny for Esperanto and its adherents. My co- 
operation will be given exclusively to Ido[. . .].” 88 If he had lost patience 
with some of the organizational work for Ido, he came to appreciate 
the language itself. He translated some of his energeticist writings into 
it and told a reviewer that he “found it of great benefit in giving clarity 
and definiteness to his thought.” 89 

Looking for other translation projects of similar worth, he naturally 
came upon chemical nomenclature. 90 Ostwald was in a unique posi- 
tion to do something about the fin-de-siecle Babel. He was one of the 
world’s most famous chemists, he had leisure on his country estate, and 
he was the founder and one of the editors of the Zeitschrifi fur physi- 
kalische Chemie. In early 1911, he wrote again to his coeditor van’t Hoft 
demanding that the Zeitschrifi publish abstracts in Ido: “Thereby many 
who cannot read German would be able to become acquainted with the 
content of the journal, since Ido is very easily understandable to every 

*“Interessen immer weiter von der Chemie fortwandern. Internationalismus, Paci- 
fismus und kulturelle Energetik sind jetzt meine Probleme.” 

+ “Die Personlichkeit, welche mich zum Ausscheiden zwingt, ist Couturat. Er hat die 
Beschaffenheit von vulkanisiertem Kautschuk: er weicht jedem Druck, aber sobald 
dieser nachlasst, nimmt er seine friihere Form an.” 



Frenchman, Englishman, Italian, Spaniard, etc.”* 91 Ostwald would sub- 
sidize the annual cost of ioo Marks for the first year. 

Van’t Hoff had grimly tolerated Ostwald’s enthusiasm up to now, but 
this was the last straw. He responded three days later that he could “not 
go along” with the abstract idea, and that “upon this change I would 
no longer wish to support the journal with my name.” 1 92 Ostwald was 
rather taken aback, especially since van’t Hoft seemed to be allying with 
the publishing house of Wilhelm Engelmann, which also resisted any 
introduction of Ido into the journal, a position that Ostwald consid- 
ered an intrusion of commerce into editorial decisions about scientific 
content. 93 Ostwald was particularly outraged about Engelmann’s resis- 
tance to publishing his own German-language article about Ido chemi- 
cal nomenclature, and van’t Hoft provided no support at all. This initi- 
ated a huge breach between the friends, and on zi January 1911 Ostwald 
penned an angry missive berating van’t Hoft. While the letter was en 
route, van’t Hoft fell deathly ill and withdrew from all correspondence. 
(He died of tuberculosis just over a month later.) Full of remorse, Ost- 
wald wrote to Johanna van’t Hoff to apologize (after a fashion) three 
days after her husband’s demise: “I have set aside for the time being 
the question of the Ido abstracts, concerning which your husband had 
placed himself in determined opposition to my wishes and plans.” 394 
Mercy seemed to be in the air: the next day, Engelmann agreed to pub- 
lish Ostwald’s article, but only in a supplemental volume, and on the 
condition that no polemics about constructed languages be allowed to 
enter the journal in the future. 95 

Ostwald had been laboring over a nomenclature for inorganic chem- 
istry in Ido by scouring chemistry textbooks and translating index items 
into Ido. 96 The biggest challenge, however, was a complete lexicon of 
the chemical elements consistent with the three principles of Ido (uni- 
vocality, internationality, and reversibility) of which internationality 
was the central factor. In May, July, and December 1910, Ostwald had 
serialized his chemical nomenclature in Progreso, but of course the main 

*“Dadurch wiirden Viele, die nicht deutsch lesen konnen, doch den Inhalt der Ztschr. 
kennen lernen konnen, da Ido fur jeden Franzosen, Englander, Italiener, Spanier etc. 
sehr leicht verstandlich ist.” 

* “nicht mitmachen”/“daE ich die Zeitschrift bei dieser Anderung nicht mehr mit 
meinem Namen stiitzen mochte.” 

*“Ich habe die Frage der Ido-Referate, bezuglich deren Ihr Mann sich in bestimmten 
Gegensatz zu meinen Wiinschen und Planen gestellt hatte, einstweilen zuruckge- 


The Wizards ofldi 


audience he hoped to reach — international chemists — did not read 
Ido, and would not do so until Ostwald persuaded them in German to 
take it seriously. And so Ostwald’s “Chemische Weltliteratur” article 
was published in the first supplemental issue of the Zeitschrifi on 28 
February 1911, adorned with the Engelmann-imposed footnote: “The 
author assumes sole responsibility for the content of this article.”* 97 
Ostwald began where most such efforts did: by lamenting the growth 
of “smaller” ( kleinere ) languages alongside the three “big” ( grossen ) 
ones — already too many — but taking solace in the fact that chemistry 
was an international science that already had a large body of interna- 
tional nomenclature. Since Latin was no longer a plausible solution, one 
was compelled to move to a constructed language; hence, Ido: 

In the auxiliary language Ido (an improved Esperanto and orga- 
nized for continuing future improvement) a means of communi- 
cation presently offers itself whose utility has already been proven 
many times, and whose continual adaptation to its goal is already 
secured for the future through an international organization. 

This language comprises in general the forms deployed in the 
European languages, simplified throughout however in the sense of 
simplicity and univocality. 1 98 

At last, here was a possibility to develop a uniform nomenclature build- 
ing on the shared concepts and substances that chemistry enjoyed. Ost- 
wald turned his attention to inorganic chemistry — essentially, the ele- 
ments of the periodic table and their basic compounds — rather than 
the much more complex field of organic chemistry, where the conven- 
tions for naming isomers were themselves in flux at precisely this mo- 
ment in each of the principal ethnic languages in which science was 
published. Ostwald attempted to construct a name with the maximum 
internationality for each substance. This task was complicated by occa- 

' “ In r den Inhalt dieses Aufsatzes iibernimmt der Verfasser die alleinige Verantwor- 

t “In der Hilfssprache Ido (ein verbessertes und fur dauernde kiinftige Verbesserung 
organisiertes Esperanto) liegt gegenwartig ein Verkehrsmittel vor, dessen Anwend- 
barkeit bereits vielfach bewahrt worden ist, und dessen dauernde Anpassung an seine 
Zwecke auch fiir die Zukunft durch eine Internationale Organisation gesichert ist. 

Diese Sprache schliesst sich im allgemeinen den gebrauchlichen Formen der 
europaischen Sprachen an, vereinfacht diese aber durchaus im Sinne der Einfachheit 
und Eindeutigkeit.” 



sional tensions between the international symbol and the international 
word. This was most marked for symbols that begin with C, as in carbon, 
because the c in Ido (as in Esperanto) was pronounced ts, and the Ido 
name for carbon would be karbo. (Ostwald believed a later generation 
would change the symbol to K.) Consider silver : 

Ag argento. The general dictionary has arjento for silver, which we 
could adopt without f urther ado if the letter ^ did not occur in the 
international symbol, which should where possible also be con- 
tained in the name. Thus it is suggested that the form argento be 
adopted for the chemical substance, while arjento remain for gen- 
eral use. The silver moon would be translated with “arjenta luna” 
[sic: luno — MG], while the sentence: “Silver is soluble in nitric 
acid,” in Ido reads: “argento esas solvebla en nitratocido.”* 99 

And so on through several problematic cases. Interestingly, he left with- 
out comment the peculiar case of iodine. Considering that Ostwald was 
the person identified with the principle of univocality — one word, one 
meaning — it is somewhat disconcerting to observe in Figure 5.1, his 
table of element names, the Ido word for iodine. It’s “ido.” 

Ostwald remained very proud of the result, as he told the Ameri- 
can journal Science in 1914: “I showed that a chemic nomenclature in 
a plastic, artificial language is better, more consistent and more com- 
prehensible than in any natural language.” 100 Esperantists responded 
with their own nomenclature in 1912, which Couturat accused them 
of shamelessly lifting from Ostwald. Esperantists were in a bind, how- 
ever, because after the schism it was all the more important to adhere 
to the Fundamento to differentiate their language from Ido. Alexan- 
der Batek in late 1909 had attempted to publish yet another nomen- 
clature program in the Internacia Scienca Revuo, contending that “the 
Fundamento is not the foundation ( fundamento ) for ‘specialty’ nam- 
ing, and untouchability ( netusebleco ) applies only for words of universal 

*“Ag argento. Das allgemeine Worterburch hat fur Silber arjento, das wir ohne 
weiteres annehmen konnten, wenn nicht im internationalen Zeichen der Buchstabe 
g vorkame, den man womoglich auch im Namen erhalten sollte. So ist vorgeschlagen 
worden, die Form argento fur die chemischen Stoffe anzunehmen, wahrend arjento 
fur den allgemeinen Gebrauch bleibt. Der silberne Mond wurde mit arjenta luna [sic: 
luno — MG] ubersetzt werden, wahrend der Satz: Silber ist in Salpetersaure loslich, 
in Ido hiesse: argento esas solvebla en nitratocido.” 

The Wizards ofldt 


Ac Aktino {Ah). 
Ag Agento. 

Al Alumino. 

Ar Argono. 

As Arseno. 

Au Auro. 

B Boro. 

Ba Bario. 

Be Berilo. 

Bi Bismuto 
Br Bromo. 

C Karbo (K). 

Ca Kalco (Kc). 

Cd Kadmo (Kd). 
Ce Cero. 

Cl Ivloro (Kl). 

Cr Kromo (Kr). 

Co Ivobalto (Ko). 
Cs Cesio. 

Cu Kupro (Ku). 
By Disprozo ( Ds ). 
Er Erbo. 

Eu Europo. 

F Fluoro. 

Fe Fero. 

Ga Galio. 

Gd Gadolinio. 

Ge Germanio. 

H Hido. 

He Helo. 

Hg Merkuro (Mr). 
In Indo. 

I Ido. 

Io Ionio. 
lr Irido. 

K Kalio (Ka). 

Kr Kripto. 

La Lantano. 

Li Litio. 

Lu Luteto. 

Mg Magnezio. 

Mn Mangano. 

Mo Molibdo. 

N Nitro. 

Na Natro. 

Nd Neodimo. 

Ne Neono. 

Ni Nikclo. 

0 Oxo. 

Os Osmo. 

P Fosfo ( Fo ). 

Pb Plumbo. 

PI Palado. 

Po Polono. 

Pr Praseodimo. 

Pt Platino. 

Ba Radiumo. 

Bb Rubido. 

Bh Rodio. 

Bu Ruteno. 

S Sulfo. 

Sa Saraaro. 

Sb Stibo. 

Sc Skando ( Sk ). 
Se Seleno. 

Si Siliko. 

Sn Stano. 

Sr Stronco. 

Ta Tantalo. 

Tb Terbo. 

Te Teluro. 

Th Torio (To). 
Ti Titano. 

Tl Talio. 

Tu Tulio. 

U Urano. 

Y Vanado. 

W Wolframo. 

X Xenono. 

Y Yitro. 

Y Yiterbo. 

Zn Zinko. 

Zr Zirkono. 

FIGURE 5.1. Wilhelm Ostwald’s nomenclature for the chemical elements in Ido, as 
published in German in early 1911. Observe that the name for Ag (silver), discussed in 
the text, is mistyped in the figure. The parenthetical symbols were Ostwald’s sugges- 
tions for better aligning the international system with Ido. Wilhelm Ostwald, “Che- 
mische Weltliteratur,” Zeitschrift fur physikalische Chemie 76 (January 1911): 1-20, 
on 8. 

meaning,”* but his remained a minority voice. 101 Esperantists took the 
challenge of Ido as a signal to better organize themselves for technical 
nomenclature, noticeably weak before 1907. 102 

Ostwald continued to organize for international science. In Munich 
on 12 June 1911, Ostwald established an organization called the “Bridge” 
(. Briicke ), intended to promote universal standardization among the 

*“Sed la Fundamento ne estas fundamento por la nomigado ‘faka,’ kaj la netusebleco 
atendas nur sur la vortoj de universala signifo.” 



sciences. Besides making nomenclature uniform within chemistry, he 
advocated unifying the terminologies of each of the sciences to co- 
ordinate with each other. Even page sizes for scientific journals should 
be of uniform size. And, of course, a crucial plank in his program was 
“[t]he preparation of an international auxiliary language for publica- 
tions of universal interest.” The time was now, he insisted: “We need 
only choose one of the artificial systems already at hand. Because Ido 
is the only one in which a systematic chemic nomenclature has been 
worked out, we should turn our attention first to that scientifically per- 
fected idiom.” 103 In February 1912, Ostwald adopted Ido as the Bridge’s 
official language. 

The End of the Experiment 

Tilings were looking good for Ido. The movement was still smaller than 
Esperanto, but Idists had attracted much of the leadership, and the sup- 
port of such luminaries as Ostwald granted the language enormous visi- 
bility in a short period. But, like many blessings, this defection of the 
cream of Esperanto’s crop had brought its own curse. Part of the reason 
those individuals had been so active in Esperanto, and why they were 
attracted to Ido, was their devotion to linguistic experimentation and 
their search for a perfect (not merely “good enough”) international aux- 
iliary. The Fundamento had constrained them, but now that they used 
Fundamento- free Ido, experimentation could run wild — even amok. 

By July 1910, Jespersen began to panic. “I believe that it is now abso- 
lutely necessary,” he wrote in Progreso, “to have certain rules which, 
without changing the principle of liberality which is our strength and 
concerning which we are justifiably proud, could slightly restrict it in 
order to ease the task of the Academy and to lead us as quickly as pos- 
sible to sufficient stability.”* He suggested that any proposed reform 
come accompanied by a seconding motion from a speaker of a different 
native language. Even Couturat, the arch- advocate of Ido, appended to 
the article his agreement that “ some such rule is absolutely necessary, in 
order to avoid the ‘flood’ and the interminable discussion of the same 

*“me opinionas ke esas nun absolute necesa havar certa reguli qui, sen chanjar la prin- 
cipo di liberaleso qua esas nia forto e pri qua ni esas juste fiera, povas poke restriktar 
ol e per to faciligar la tasko di la Akademio e duktar ni max balde posible a suficanta 


The Wizards of Ido 

questions.”* 104 At a meeting of Idists in Solothurn, Switzerland, from 
late August to early September 1911, ten years of “stability” were de- 
clared for Ido. For a decade, the language would stay fixed in the form it 
had acquired as of 1 July 1913, in order to give the improvements in the 
language since 1907 time to solidify, at which point experimentation 
would be opened again. (The period was then extended for 1924-1926, 
and again in 1934-1938.) This nakedly ad hoc solution to the problem 
of stability was precisely why the Fundamento had been enshrined at 
Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1905, and the Idists now had to confront the ne- 
cessity of a similar move. 105 

But the real threat to Ido was not the innovative zeal of its partisans, 
or the perfidy of Esperantists — who took the schism seriously enough 
to found the Universala Esperanta Asocio (UEA) in 1908, an umbrella 
organization that exists to this day — but from the catastrophe loom- 
ing over Europe. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to 
the Habsburg throne, was assassinated by a nineteen-year-old Serbian 
named Gavrilo Princip in the Balkan city of Sarajevo. The geopoliti- 
cal machinations and miscalculations that followed set oft over four 
years of generalized massacre that devastated the continent. Patriot- 
ism surged, and as Frenchmen, Britons, and Russians slaughtered Ger- 
mans, Italians, Austrians, and Hungarians — and vice versa — the spirit 
of global comity that had powered the movement for a universal auxil- 
iary dissipated like a deflated zeppelin. The tenth annual Esperanto con- 
gress, scheduled for Paris in 1914, was canceled. The eleventh congress in 
San Francisco, in the neutral United States, was but a shadow of former 
meetings. The number of Esperanto periodicals collapsed from a high 
of over a hundred to under thirty. 106 

Ido was hit worse. On 3 August 1914, while driving in the French 
countryside, a mobilization truck headed for the front plowed into 
an automobile out for a quiet drive, killing a passenger. His name was 
Louis Couturat. Given how much the Ido movement was driven by the 
indefatigable energy of the Paris logician, it never quite recovered. The 
first Ido congress, due to take place that September in Luxembourg, was 
delayed, and the movement revived after the war but never regained its 
earlier dynamism. Esperanto, in turn, attracted attention from pacifists, 
bypassing Ido’s determined avoidance of those kinds of political issues 

*“ula tala regulo esas absolute necesa, por evitar 1’ ‘inundo’ e la senfina diskutado di 
la sama questioni.” 

i 5 8 


in favor of a focus on science; and new language projects like Occiden- 
tal siphoned oft enthusiasts. Even Otto Jespersen, member of the Dele- 
gation, would abandon Ido in favor of his own universal auxiliary, No- 
vial, in 1928. By 1923 there were only roughly a hundred Idists in all of 
Soviet Russia (the revolution there had wrought havoc on internation- 
alist movements). Only forty individuals, Soviets included, attended 
the 1929 Ido world congress. 107 For all their hopes, the war eviscerated 
the quest for a scientific auxiliary. 

In 1914, Ostwald shut down the Bridge. There was a war on. 


The Linguistic Shadow 
of the Great War 

Kranke Volker — und wie wenige sind heute noch gesund! — haben not- 
wendig kranke Sprachen. Ihre Heilung bedeutet zugleich die Heilung des 
Volkskorpers selbst: ihre internationale Ordnung ist nichts anderes als 
die Ordnung derer, die sie sprechen. Das Sprachenproblem der Natio- 
nen tragt also ein doppeltes Gesicht: ein nach innen gewandtes, das jedes 
Volk allein und auf seine Weise, ein nach aufien gewandtes, das kein Volk 
fur sich, sondern nur in Gemeinschaft mit alien anderen losen kann.* 



Wilhelm Ostwald was strongly committed to international comity and 
the power of science and language to unify the world — except when 
he wasn’t. In those early years of the second decade of the twentieth 
century (which no one would yet dream of as “prewar” since battle 
among such civilized nations would surely never come to pass), he had 
crusaded for European uniformity in the guise of scientific standard- 
ization. Yet in 1915, he lionized a rather different project. “The break- 
through of our united armies ... is only the military prelude to a peace- 
ful advance of Germany to the southeast, through which the greatest 
contiguous mainland complex on Earth’s surface, namely the European- 
Asian land mass, will enter into a new epoch of its history and thereby 
of world history as a whole . . . Ostwald thundered. 2 This future was 
going to be German. 

*“Sick peoples — and how few today are still healthy! — necessarily have sick lan- 
guages. Their healing means at the same time the healing of the body of the people 
itself: their international order is nothing other than the order of those that speak 
them. The language problem of nations thus bears a double face: one turned inward, 
that can be resolved by each people alone and in its own fashion, and one turned out- 
ward, that no people can resolve on its own but rather only in communion with all 

*“Der Durchbruch unserer vereinigten Armeen ... ist nur das kriegerische Vorspiel 
zu einem friedlichen Vordringen Deutschlands nach Sudosten, durch welches der 



Ostwald knew from his study of history that the road to progress was 
always paved by “ Verkehrsmitter — means of communication — ranging 
from the money that greased the axles of commerce to the roads and 
trains that transported peoples. The greatest means of communication 
was, of course, language. Echoing arguments he had deployed just a 
few years earlier for Louis Couturat’s constructed languages, he noted 
that “[o]nly through language can the isolated personal existence, the 
individual or the linguistically demarcated people, be set into a fruitful 
relationship with other persons and peoples.”* As German troops ad- 
vanced, they needed more than ammunition, troops, and fuel: “Every- 
where we arrive together with our allies in our push through the world 
and where we want to protect our mutual interests, the implementation 
of a common spiritual means of communication, a common language, is 
the definitely necessary prerequisite.’^ 3 Ido for world conquest ? Hardly. 
The common language should be, quite obviously, German. 

But there, alas, was the rub, for German was “still in a compara- 
tively primitive state” + ; that is to say, it was too complicated. Citing 
Otto Jespersen’s linguistic research, Ostwald insisted that as languages 
progressed they simplified, shedding inflections, genders, and as- 
pects as they streamlined themselves to charge into modernity. “That 
is the natural development of every language that is found among all 
the other means of communication and that is nothing but an expres- 
sion of the most general law of development,” declared the Nobelist 
who introduced thermodynamics into chemistry, “namely of the ener- 
getic imperative, whereby the pointless squandering of energy that lies 
in the multiplicity and irregularity of older linguistic forms is increas- 
ingly constrained.” 5 4 The success of German armies was due to the 

groBte zusammenhangende Komplex des Festlandes auf der Erdoberflache, namlich 
das europaisch-asiatische Landgebiet in eine neue Epoche seiner Geschichte und 
damit der gesamten Weltgeschichte eintreten wird. . . 

*“Nur durch die Sprache kann sich die isolierte menschliche Existenz, das Indivi- 
duum oder das sprachlich begrenzte Volk, mit anderen Personen und Volkern in 
fruchtbringende Beziehung setzen.” 

^“Uberall, wo wir im Welttreiben mit unseren Mitmenschen zusammenkommen und 
unsere gemeinsamen Interessen pflegen wollen, ist die unbedingt notwendige Vor- 
aussetzung die Handhabung eines gemeinsamen geistigen Verkehrsmittels, einer ge- 
meinsamen Sprache.” 

*“ein noch verhaltnismaBig primitives Gebilde.” 

^“Das ist die natiirliche Entwicklung jeder Sprache, die sich auch bei alien anderen 
Verkehrsmitteln wiederfindet und die nicht als ein Ausdruck des allgemeinsten Ent- 
wicklungsgesetzes, namlich des energetischen Imperativs ist, wonach die zwecklose 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


vigor of the German people, who had not been stultified by Frenchified 
civilization, but this same vigor blocked the language from achieving 
a higher simplicity. Fortunately, one could learn from the practices of 
other colonial powers, especially the British, whose advance into Africa 
was facilitated by the easy communication of pidgin English. Hence 
Ostwald’s modest proposal: “I suggest producing a simplified German 
on scientific-technical principles for practical employment at first in 
those [occupied] regions. All the avoidable diversity, all that ‘richness’ 
of the language so charming for aesthetics, which so tremendously com- 
plicates its learning, will be set aside here so that this new means of 
communication — for which I suggest the name Weltdeutsck — can be 
learned and used by everyone with ease of effort.”* 5 Simplify the gen- 
ders, toss out a few umlauts (following many dialects), and German 
would be good to go for global domination. 

The Idists, understandably, were horrified. Leopold Pfaundler, 
Ostwald’s erstwhile comrade-in-arms, penned an irate missive to the 
Leipzig chemist on the penultimate day of 1915. After the Ido commu- 
nity had just absorbed the shock of Couturat’s untimely death in the 
summer of 1914 and his widow was forging ahead with a full dictio- 
nary of the new language, all of a sudden the world’s most famous Ido- 
speaker had jumped ship — in the middle of a continental conflagration, 
no less! “[W]e now more than ever need a neutral ground, which is 
what Ido is,” + Pfaundler wrote. He implored Ostwald to desist: “There- 
fore I risk an appeal to you not to pursue this plan any further, grant- 
ing us moreover in this besieged time your exceedingly valuable con- 
tinued cooperation as well. I remain despite the war in contact with 
Swedish and Danish Idists and find everywhere the greatest willingness 
to cooperate. We must advance the work from these neutral states and 
Switzerland, and not let it slumber.”* 6 

Energievergeudung, die in der Mannigfaltigkeit und UnregelmaEigkeit der alteren 
sprachlichen Formen liegt, zunehmend eingeschrankt wird.” 

*“Ich schlage vor, fur den praktischen Gebrauch zunachst in jenen Gebieten ein 
vereinfachtes Deutsch auf wissenschaftlich-technischer Grundlage herzustellen. In 
diesem miiEten alle entbehrlichen Mannigfaltigkeiten, all jener fiir die Asthetik so 
reizvolle ‘Reichtum’ der Sprache, welche ihr Erlernen so ungeheuer erschwert, be- 
seitigt werden, so daE dieses neue Verkehrsmittel, fur welches ich den Namen Welt- 
deutsch vorschlage, von jedermann mit leichter Miihe erlernt und gebraucht werden 

^“brauchen wir jetzt mehr als je eine neutrale Grundlage, wie es das Ido ist.” 
^“Darum wage ich den Appell an Sie, diesen Plan nicht weiter zu verfolgen, uns viel- 



Ostwald was neither surprised nor cowed by Pfaundler’s rebuke. “I 
was very conscious that my suggestion of Weltdeutsch would arouse 
displeasure and even also protest among my Ido friends,” he wrote back 
on 12 January 1916, “and I naturally owe an accounting in response to 
your friendly and detailed letter.”* His accounting consisted of a reprise 
of German war aims, including an accusation that Couturat’s machina- 
tions were intended “to centralize, to monopolize, and at the same time 
to give Ido apronounced French character.’^ With German culture tri- 
umphant, that was now an anachronism. Besides, Weltdeutsch was not 
the same kind of project as Ido: “It is not an international language 
in the earlier sense which I propose, but rather a language that should 
serve for an entirely defined goal of at least a reasonably national char- 
acter, whereupon it might then be seen whether it will be used for gen- 
eral communication around the entire world or not.” Ostwald “will not 
publicly turn my back on Ido, since it represents a very significant im- 
provement over Esperanto under all circumstances, but from the above 
articulated reasons I can also not any longer expend any special effort 
on this, in my opinion, hopeless labor.” t7 Ido might suffer, but Espe- 
ranto would suffer worse. The wartime spirit in action! 

From the beginning, the Great War boded ill for both science and 
language. In December 1914, a despondent Otto Jespersen, in neutral 
Denmark, wrote to the German emigre (and founding father of cul- 
tural anthropology) Franz Boas at Columbia University in New York 

mehr in dieser ohnehin bedrangten Zeit Ihre uns so uberaus wertvolle Mithilfe auch 
weiterhin zu gewahren. Ich stehe trotz des Krieges mit schwedischen und danischen 
Idisten in Verbindung und finde iiberall grosste Geneigtheit zur Mitarbeit. Von 
diesen neutralen Staaten und der Schweiz aus miissen wir das Werk we iter fordern 
und es nicht einschlafen lassen.” 

*“Ich war mir wohl bewuftt, daft mein Vorschlag des Weltdeutsch bei meinen Ido- 
freunden Befremden und wohl auch Widerspruch erregen wiirde, und ich bin Ihrem 
freundlichen und ausfuhrlichen Brief natiirlich Rechenschaft schuldig.” 

+ “zu zentralisieren, zu monopolisieren und gleichzeitig dem Ido einen ausgepragt 
franzosischen Charakter zu geben.” 

*“Es ist nicht eine internationale Sprache im fruheren Sinne, welche ich vorschlage, 
sondern eine Sprache, die fur einen ganz bestimmten Zweck von wenigstens halb- 
wegs nationalem Charakter dienen soil, wobei sich dann herausstellen mag, ob sie 
fiir den allgemeinen Verkehr auf der ganzen Welt benutzt werden wird oder nicht. 
[. . .] Vom ido werde ich mich offentlich nicht abwenden, da es dem Esperanto gegen- 
iiber unter alien Umstanden einen sehr bedeutenden Fortschritt darstellt, aber aus 
den eben dargelegten Griinden kann ich auch fernerhin keine besondere Arbeit auf 
diese, meines Erachtens aussichtlose Arbeit verwenden.” 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


City, in the still-neutral United States: “When is that dreadful war to 
end? It poisons everything, not only the minds of the fighting nations, 
but also to a great extent those of the neutrals and makes all peaceful 
‘kulturarbeit’ more or less impossible — and for a long time to come!” 8 
Jespersen was more right than he suspected. The story of scientific lan- 
guages in the wake of World War I focuses very sharply where Ostwald 
did: on German, which had become in the latter years of the nineteenth 
century the fastest growing language of all sciences, especially chemis- 
try, and which appeared set to take over the world in 1915 following the 
footsteps of German troops. But as those stormy advances bogged down 
into trench warfare, so did the reputation of scientific German, and the 
aftermath of the Armistice in November 1918 and then the punishing 
Treaty of Versailles in 1919 saw linked developments that hobbled, even 
criminalized, the language that Ostwald was convinced would rise to 

German for Science, and Vice Versa 

By the final year of the war, mocking the German tongue had become 
something of a national pastime in the countries of the Entente (France, 
the United Kingdom, and — belatedly — the United States; Russia was 
already hors de combat). A French scholar, mapping the geography of 
European speech as the continent was tearing itself apart, allowed him- 
self a day-pass from objectivity when it came to the Teutonic tongue. 
“German is not a seductive language. The pronunciation is rude, ham- 
mered by a violent accent at the beginning of each word. The grammar 
is encumbered with useless archaisms: the nouns for example have mul- 
tiple case forms different from each other which do not even have the 
merit of being found in all words, and which serve no purpose since 
the order of words is fixed and suffices to indicate the sense,” he pro- 
claimed. He went further: “The adjective has several uselessly compli- 
cated forms. Sentences are constructed in a rigid, monotonic manner. 
The vocabulary is entirely idiosyncratic, so that neither a Slav, nor a Ro- 
mance speaker, nor even an Englishman or a Scandinavian can under- 
stand it easily. The appearance of the whole lacks finesse, nimbleness, 
suppleness, elegance.”* 9 Thus Antoine Meillet, the most distinguished 

*“L’allemand nest pas une langue seduisante. La prononciation en est rude, marte- 
lee par un accent violent sur le commencement de chaque mot. La grammaire en est 
encombree d’archaismes inutiles: les noms par exemple ont des formes casuelles mul- 



French linguist of his age, wrote in the tradition of Gallic attacks on 
their Eastern neighbors that had percolated even into the rarified dis- 
course of science. As a compatriot biologist noted in 1915, “What char- 
acterizes German scholars is patience, prolixity, and obscurity,”* and the 
same was true of their language. 10 

This is an old story, but a perpetually popular one. German is, to 
put it mildly, frustrating. There are three genders (masculine, feminine, 
neuter), where Western European languages typically manage with two 
(French) or even none (English, sort of). At least the Russian genders 
are almost always easily identifiable from the ending of the noun, but 
German offers such solace rarely. Nouns are scattered among the three 
genders willy-nilly, so that freedom ( Freiheit ) is feminine and death 
(Tod) is masculine, but the charming Friiulein stays demurely neuter. 
(The regional qualities of the language only make this worse: plates are 
masculine in Berlin but neuter in Munich.) And then there are four 
cases to keep track of — nominative, accusative, genitive, dative — which 
typically only inflect the direct or indirect articles of the nouns rather 
than the words themselves. At least the nouns are capitalized, so you 
can pick them out; the lower-case verbs are where the trouble truly be- 
gins. Whatever verb you conjugate has to come “second” in a sentence 
(although the second position could be the tenth word, if a lengthy ad- 
verbial phrase knocks it back), and then the remaining infinitives, par- 
ticiples, and other verbal detritus are jammed in reverse order at the end 
of the sentence — which might be a very long way oft. (In subordinate 
clauses the verb order is different yet again.) The forms of verbs can be 
devilishly irregular, and the abundant prefixes, which often determine 
the meaning of the word, can leap to the end of the sentence at the drop 
of a conjugation. (It is probably best not to dwell on the gargantuan 
compound words.) 

To make matters more complex, German has always been a pluri- 
centric language, with no centralized arbiter of pronunciation or even 
vocabulary and syntax. 11 Despite the different national variants of the 

tiples, differentes les unes des autres, qui n’ont meme pas la merite de se trouver dans 
tous les mots, et qui ne servent a rien puisque l’ordre des mots est fixe et suffit a indi- 
quer le sens. L’adjectif a des formes inutilement compliquees. Les phrases sont con- 
struites d’une maniere raide, monotone. Le vocabulaire est tout particulier, tel que 
ni un Slave, ni un Roman, ni meme un Anglais ou un Scandinave ne peut l’appren- 
dre aisement. L’aspect d’ensemble manque de finesse, de legerete, de souplesse, d ele- 

*“Ce qui caracterise les savants allemands, c’est la patience, la prolixite et l’obscurite.” 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


language — German, Austrian, and Swiss, for example — each region has 
its own Dialekt which serves to shut out even native speakers from other 
parts of the same country. The written language (somewhat oxymoroni- 
cally known in German as Schriftsprache ) is more standardized but con- 
tains peculiarities that even natives get wrong — two subjunctives! — and 
the colloquial language ( Umgangssprache ), a kind of averaging of pro- 
nunciation and lexicon for the sake of communal interchange, has to 
make do for oral “non-dialect” communication. 12 

The history of German can be understood as a series of overlapping 
attempts at standardizing the language. An Indo-European tongue, 
modern German descended from Proto-Germanic, spoken by tribes 
who poured into Central Europe at some undefined point before the 
birth of Jesus Christ. (Julius Caesar fought Celtic-speaking Gauls; his 
successors had their hands full with bellicose Germans.) Eventually, 
the languages of the Germanic family split into the progenitors of the 
Scandinavian tongues, Dutch (from Low German), and of course En- 
glish. Neither Old High German — “High” referring to location up the 
Rhine — nor its successor Middle High German (dating from roughly 
1150) was standardized, and the massive population explosion among 
“German” speakers in the high middle ages produced ever greater di- 
versification of regional speech. 13 In the thirteenth century, courtly so- 
ciety in the German states did achieve a kind of unified poetic language 
known as the Dichtersprache , but it was sharply confined by class, while 
the following century saw the emergence of six main types of “chan- 
cellery German” for bureaucratic communication. A (more or less) 
single learned language for writing really manifested only in the wake 
of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, as 
Luther’s translated Bible and writings provided a seed around which 
standardization could crystallize. 14 

Science, as an activity conducted mostly by learned men (in this 
period, and for a long time afterward, almost entirely men), tracked 
alongside these developments. (Throughout the following, it is impor- 
tant to recall that the German word Wissenscbaft, which I will generally 
translate as “science,” is rather general, referring to “scholarship” or sys- 
tematized knowledge. In most of the instances I quote, the term refers 
more narrowly to knowledge of nature.) Latin remained dominant for 
scientific communication in the early modern period, yet attempts to 
render Greek or Latin technical terms into German roots began at least 
as early as the Renaissance polymath Albrecht Diirer in the sixteenth 
century. 15 Latin may have been the language of instruction for the Ger- 



man universities that began to sprout up in the fourteenth century, but 
rebels soon called for a shift to ordinary German (whatever that might 
be). The alchemist Paracelsus had lectured in German in Basel in 152 6- 
1527, and in 1687 the jurist Christian Thomasius became notorious for 
insisting on teaching in German at Leipzig. He was run out of town, 
but German was recognized as the teaching language at Halle in 1700 
and at Gottingen in 1733. The vision of Johann Balthasar Schupp from 
1663 began to be realized: “Knowledge is bound to no language. Why 
should I not be able to learn just as well in the German language as in 
Latin how I should recognize, love, and revere God? Why should I not 
be able to learn just as well in the German language how I can help a sick 
person, in German as in Greek or Arabic ? The French and Italians teach 
and learn in all disciplines and free arts in their mother tongue.”* 16 

One could not, however, just abandon Latin and use German. Many 
scholars in the German states were gifted classicists and knew that the 
German they used every day did not possess the vocabulary or the flexi- 
bility to reproduce the richness of the universal language of scholar- 
ship. This widespread dissatisfaction with German’s quality — voiced by 
leading natural philosophers such as Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz — 
proved instrumental in motivating German academics to improve their 
native tongue. During the first half of the eighteenth century, Christian 
Wolff at Halle worked harder than anyone to develop a lexical store- 
house to enable German’s capacity to “hold” science, much as we saw 
the Russians labor in the nineteenth century. The standard(ish) Ger- 
man of the north began to solidify as the language of scholarship, sci- 
ence, and poetry. 17 This was precisely the period when Johann Gottfried 
Herder articulated his extremely influential notion of the spirit ( Geist ) 
of a people as expressed through its traditions, folklore, and language, 
a notion that — often implicitly — underscored much of the enthusiasm 
for German as a language of science. 

The establishment of German as such a language by the early nine- 
teenth century was astonishingly rapid when viewed against the back- 

*“Es ist die Weisheit an keine Sprache gebunden. Warum sollte ich nicht in Teutscher 
Sprache ebensowohl lernen konnen, wie ich Gott erkennen, lieben und ehren solle, 
als in lateinischer? Warum sollte ich nicht ebensowohl in Teutscher Sprache lernen 
konnen, wie ich einem Kranken helfen konne, auf Teutsch als auf Griechisch oder 
Arabisch? Die Franzosen und Italiener lehren und lernen alle Facultaten und freien 
Kiinste in ihrer Muttersprache.” 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


drop of Latin’s place in Central European scholarship. Latin first ar- 
rived in the area with legions of Roman troops (witness the foundation 
of such cities as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium in 40 AD, aka 
Cologne, aka Koln, aka — in Dialekt — Kolle), but it spread beyond 
the furthest military outposts as Gaulish clerks brought bureaucratic 
order to the unconquered Germanic tribes. Conversion to Christianity 
extended the reach of Latin even farther. 18 With the development 
of moveable-type printing in the early fifteenth century by Johannes 
Gutenberg — a German whose first publication was a Latin Bible — the 
emerging Schrifissprache began to compete with the venerable ancient 
language. Lrom records of the Erankfurt book fair, we can judge the 
proportions of Latin versus German books, but we should take care 
to note that these documents enumerate not only books for domestic 
consumption but also those for pan-European use, skewing the results 
toward Latin. Nonetheless, the numbers are striking: in the sixteenth 
century, only 10% of publications in Germany appeared in German (of 
whatever stripe); by 1800, 95% were. The dramatic change happened 
in the seventeenth and especially the eighteenth centuries. As late as 
1570, the percentage of German printed books in Latin was 70%, and 
German-language books first outnumbered Latin in 1681, and then 
permanently eclipsed it after 1692. In 1754 Latin production was still 
at a healthy 25%, but by the eve of the french Revolution in 1787 had 
dwindled to a tenth. After 1752 German works were dominant in all 
fields, philosophy and medicine having shifted away from Latin in the 
early eighteenth century. 19 Latin remained important, but now the 
Latinity of German scholars could no longer be assumed. At least six 
different Latin-German botanical dictionaries were published between 
1780 and 1820 to assist the grammatically challenged, even as the great 
mathematician Carl friedrich Gauss kept his private mathematical 
journal in the traditional language of scholarship. 20 

Besides Latin, french had enormous impact on the speech of edu- 
cated Germans from the seventeenth century onward, french’s domi- 
nance of diplomacy was assured by the very treaties that kept the Ger- 
man states sequestered from each other, and in polite circles it was 
ubiquitous, f rederick II of Prussia (known as “the Great,” reigned 1740- 
1786) famously ran his Berlin court — and the associated Academy of 
Sciences — in french. When Voltaire visited in 1750, he wrote to the 
Marquis de Thibouville that “I find myself here in f ranee. One speaks 
only our language. German is for the soldiers and for the horses; it is 



only necessary on the road .”* 21 Ten percent of the books published in 
German lands from 1750 to 1780 were actually in French, and most 
were consumed internally as well as exported to Paris. French continued 
as a vehicular language of communication during the German Confed- 
eration (1815-1866), a necessity considering the mutual unintelligibility 
of some German dialects, and was only displaced after the unification 
of Germany into the Kaiserreich under Prussia’s aegis in 1871. 22 German 
became the language of a proud new nation. 

By that point, it was already a vital language of science and absolutely 
indispensible for chemistry. The amazing boom of German chemistry 
was one of the great dramas of the nineteenth century. There were essen- 
tially two related components to this upsurge of Teutonic chemists, one 
academic and one industrial. With the creation of Justus von Liebig’s 
first large-scale chemical laboratory in the sleepy university town of 
Giessen in the 1830s, it became increasingly common — first in the Ger- 
man states and then, in explicit imitation, abroad — to require practi- 
cal laboratory instruction in the training of chemists. Having chem- 
ists at one’s beck and call in the laboratory meant they could be put to 
work producing data for one’s own research projects and publishing in 
one’s own journal, and Liebig took advantage of both, creating an em- 
pire of students and students-of-students far afield. After the abortive 
revolutions of 1848, various German regional governments beefed up 
the chemistry facilities at their own universities in the hope, advertised 
by Liebig himself, that more chemistry would mean better agriculture 
(staving off famine) and more industry (ditto for unemployment). 23 
The academic boom fueled an industrial surge, and vice versa, and the 
model was widely copied, not least in the United States by Ira Rem- 
sen at Johns Hopkins University. 24 The collaboration between industry 
and academy continued into the twentieth century in the newly unified 
Germany, and a central figure in facilitating the coordination was none 
other than Wilhelm Ostwald. 25 Obviously, the language of this cutting- 
edge research was German. 

The stunning successes of German science (synthetic dyestuffs, new 
pharmaceuticals) inspired consternation abroad, especially in Paris. 
French scientists looked on enviously at the resources and status of Ger- 
man chemistry while French statesmen — still smarting from the Ger- 
man victory in the Franco -Prussian War of 1870-1871, popularly attrib- 

*“Je me trouve ici en France. On ne parle que notre langue. L’allemand est pour les 
soldats et pour les chevaux; il nest necessaire que pour la route.” 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


uted to the superiority of German technology — hatched plans to boost 
French science back to its previous pinnacle. 26 Particularly worrisome 
to an observer in 1915, from the point of view of scientific languages, 
was that “young nations from a scientific point of view,”* such as Italy, 
Romania, the United States, Japan, and the South American republics, 
all sent their students to study in Germany rather than France. 2 ' They 
brought German home with them, and tended to refer more frequently 
to German literature. 

Consider one particularly virulent eruption of nationalist furor be- 
tween the Germans and the French. It all began in 1869, when Charles 
Adolphe Wurtz, distinguished professor of chemistry at the Sorbonne — 
whom we have already met as one of the instigators of the Mendeleev- 
Meyer dispute from chapter 2 — published his Dictionary of Pure and 
Applied Chemistry in French. In the wake of the tremendous discover- 
ies by German chemists of the preceding thirty years, the first sentence 
was bound to deliver a shock East of the Rhine: “Chemistry is a French 
science. It was constituted by Lavoisier, of immortal memory.” 1 28 Given 
the increasingly militarized tensions between France and Prussia, cer- 
tain German chemists were not going to take this provocation lying 
down. Building on a long tradition after Lavoisier of German chem- 
ists refining “Erenchness” out of anti-phlogiston doctrines, Hermann 
Kolbe of Leipzig printed two pieces in response to Wurtz in his Jour- 
nal fur praktische Chemie. The first, by Jakob Volhard, argued that Ger- 
manic chemists and not Lavoisier had really developed the new chemis- 
try. 29 The lead editorial, by Kolbe himself, attacking french chemists in 
general and Wurtz in particular — “a born Alsatian, who is fully knowl- 
edgeable about the German language and relations,’^ and who therefore 
ought to have known better — in shockingly aggressive terms, triggered 
an extensive controversy in the chemical world. 30 

One of the most interesting responses to the Wurtz-Kolbe dispute 
hailed not from Paris or Berlin but from St. Petersburg: an October 
1870 editorial signed by four chemists, including D. I. Mendeleev, in 
the Russian capital’s leading German-language newspaper. These guid- 
ing lights of the newly formed Russian Chemical Society claimed that 
they had read Wurtz’s original french statement with surprise, but re- 

* “nations jeunes au point de vue scientifique” 

+ “La chimie est une science fran^aise. Elle fut constitute par Lavoisier, d’immortelle 

*“geborener Elsasser, der deutschen Sprach und Verhaltnisse vollig kundig.” 

ceived Kolbe’s hostility with shock. Kolbe, they alleged, was intoxi- 
cated by the violent triumph of his nation’s armies: “Two great nations 
stand facing each other in bloody battle; treasures of civilization, of sci- 
ence, and of art — the legacy of centuries — fall now into oblivion in a 
few days. One of these nations has finally nearly achieved victory, and 
it has gone, drunk on victory, ever further. Now however it turns out 
that this drug of victory unhappily is powerful enough to bewitch into 
battle even peaceful men of science, men of usually sober thought.”* 
Many Germans as well as Frenchmen had thought the same upon read- 
ing Kolbe’s editorial. (Rudolf Fittig, one of the editors of the ill-fated 
Zeitschrift fur Chemie that had published Mendeleev’s non-periodic 
abstract, quipped that “[t]he Journal fur practische Chemie should 
change its title and call itself the Journal fur polizeiliche Chemie or the 
chemical police.’^ 31 ) The reasoning behind the Russian intervention, 
however, was distinctive. “We however — observing from our neutral 
position, free of blood and the drug of victory — believe entirely differ- 
ently,” they observed with a soupipn of grandiosity. “In that we stand 
freely on the sidelines, we are granted the opportunity to observe the 
performance objectively. The conclusion that one draws from this ob- 
servation is full of significance : even men of the exact sciences, men of a 
nation which stands at the pinnacle of civilization, can forfeit their fine 
humane feelings as soon as their country is overcome by a passionate 
arousal.”* Therefore, the very same chemists who had taken to publish- 
ing everything first in Russian to bolster their national scientific litera- 

*“Zwei grosse Nationen stehen im blutigen Kampfe einander gegeniiber; Schatze 
der Civilisation, der Wissenschaft und der Kunst — der Erwerb von Jahrhunderten — 
fallen nun in wenigen Tagen der Vernichtung anheim. Die eine dieser Nationen hat 
beinahe schon endgiiltig den Sieg gewonnen, geht aber, siegestrunken, noch immer 
weiter. Nun ergiebt es sich aber, das[s] dieser Siegesrausch unglucklicherweise mach- 
tig genug ist, auch friedliche Manner der Wissenschaft, Manner des gesunden niicht- 
ernen Denkens zum Kampfe zu begeistern.” 

* “Das Journal fur practische Chemie sollte seinen Titel andern u. sich Journal fur po- 
lizeiliche Chemie oder chemische Polizei nennen.” 

*“Wir aber — von unserem neutralen, von Blut und Siegesrausche freien Standpunkte 
zuschauend — glauben ganz anders.f. . .] Indem wir frei bei Seite stehen, ist uns die 
Moglichkeit geboten, dass sich Vollziehende objektiv zu beobachten. Der SchluB, 
den man aus dieser Beobachtung zieht, ist bedeutungsvoll: Sogar Manner der ex- 
akten Wissenschaft, Manner einer Nation, welche an der Spitze der Civilization 
steht — konnen die feinen humanen Gefiihle, einbiiBen, sobald ihr Land von einer 
leidenschaftlichen Erregung bewaltigt ist.” 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


ture had chosen to write in German, “so that this can be brought di- 
rectly to the attention of the nation to which it is addressed.”* 32 

Wurtz wrote to his friend Aleksandr Butlerov, one of the authors, 
in appreciation: “I also have other thanks for you: I was very aware at 
the time of the protest of Russian chemists against the grotesque and 
absurd polemic of Kolbe, if you can even call it a polemic.” 1 33 On the 
other hand, the completely marginal Russians, to Volhard’s mind, were 
butting in where they were not wanted; he sarcastically noted that “it is 
understandable that the Russian chemists find no insult in this phrase, 
since in Lavoisier’s time Russian chemistry had not yet played any role 
in history.”* 34 Liebig himself wrote to Kolbe that “[tjhese Slavs are full 
of malice toward the Germans.”^ 35 As historian Alan Rocke has docu- 
mented, all of this was missing the point: Wurtz wrote his declaration 
not to antagonize the Germans but to shame the French into adopting 
the theoretical perspectives recently propounded by German chemists, 
which he insisted (with good reason) had their origins in French intel- 
lectual achievements of the 1840s and 1850s. 36 It backfired, but it did 
so in part because Wurtz could not write in French and hope that only 
Frenchmen would see it. The implication of one’s native language being 
an international language of science was that what you wrote was open 
to all literate in it. The Russians could shield themselves behind Cyril- 
lic characters and come out in German when they chose; Wurtz — and 
Kolbe — were exposed as soon as paper rolled off the presses. 

For it was not the case, as one might assume by the present situation 
of languages (or, one should say, “language,” in the singular), that even 
then-dominant German scientists believed that they needed only their 
native tongue. German had joined French and English in crowding out 
other languages of science like Italian and Dutch; it was by no means a 
monopolist. A case in point was Hermann von Helmholtz, the titan of 
German physics. Helmholtz was routinely confronted by scholarly de- 
velopments that manifested at least as often in French and English as in 

*“das dieselben direkt zur Kenntniss der Nation bringt, an deren Adresse sie gerich- 
tet sind.” 

^“J’ai aussi d’autres remerciements a vous faire: j’ai ete tres sensible dans le temps a la 
protestation des chimistes russes contre la polemique grossiere et absurde de Kolbe si 
on peut appeler cela de la polemique.” 

^“es ist verstandlich, dass die russischen Chemiker in jener Phrase keine Beleidig- 
ung finden, da zur Zeit Lavoisier’s die russische Chemie noch keine Rolle in der Ge- 
schichte gespielt hat.” 

^“Diese Slaven sind voller Bosheit auf die Deutschen.” 

I7 2 


his native German. As a matter of course, he learned to read those lan- 
guages and soon, as was usual at the time, to do more than read. While 
traveling to the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement 
of Science in Edinburgh in 1853, Helmholtz wrote repeatedly to his 
young wife about his fears that English would trip him up. He needn’t 
have worried. By the end of his journey, he beamed with pride, “I have 
become entirely so accustomed to English that I understood the better 
speakers without problems, and among those that I didn’t understand, 
my English colleagues also usually had difficulties. Dr. Cooper said to 
me that during my visit he learned again how to speak English prop- 
erly, because I don’t understand all the careless usages and provincial- 
isms to which he had become accustomed.”* 37 His French was likewise 
more than serviceable, and he was occasionally mistaken for a native 
speaker. 38 Helmholtz was exceptional only in the skill he displayed, not 
in the multilingual pressures he confronted. (Even the jingoist Kolbe, 
for example, had lived in England for a while, used English sources, and 
published in it in his youth. He avoided reading French whenever pos- 
sible, but he clearly knew how. 39 ) 

As the Franco-Prussian War receded in people’s memories and the 
unified German Reich turned into a reality straddling the plains of 
Central Europe, resentment of German as a language of science re- 
ceded. It had to, for there was no avoiding it, even as the language itself 
swelled under the massive lexical expansion engendered by the sci- 
ences. 40 British students who had done their tour of German univer- 
sities returned to their green islands and translated the German books 
of their advisors into English for those who seemed unable to master 
German word order. 41 Even Meillet, who scorned the language so poeti- 
cally at the opening of this section, concluded that “Not knowing Ger- 
man is almost always to renounce being current in the science and tech- 
nology of the times.” 1 42 For the moment, those times were stable despite 
the nationalist swagger. In the summer of 1914, however, old grudges 
erupted with renewed vigor. 

*“Ich habe mich allmalig so an das Englische gewohnt, dafi ich die besseren Sprecher 
ohne Miihe verstand, und bei denen, die ich nicht verstand, hatten auch gewohnlich 
meine englischen Bekannten Schwierigkeiten gehabt. Dr. Cooper sagte mir, durch 
meinen Aufenthalt lerne er wieder richtig englisch sprechen, weil ich alle Nachlassig- 
keiten und Provincialismen, die er sich angewohnt hatte, nicht verstande.” 
t<4 Ne pas savoir l'allemand, c’est presque toujours renoncer a etre au niveau de la sci- 
ence et de la technique de son temps.” 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 



Although nationalist tensions were ominously growing during the last 
decades of the nineteenth century, one could also view the era as dem- 
onstrating the international character of science, with the possibility 
that science could provide the glue that would knit nations together. 
International meetings proliferated. When a group of chemists span- 
ning the entire European continent gathered in the southern German 
town of Karlsruhe in September i860 to discuss the standardization 
of atomic weights, the organization of such conferences was, if not 
unheard-of, relatively rare. By 1900 it had become commonplace. Dur- 
ing the decade before Karlsruhe, international scientific meetings (of a 
limited geographical scope) took place at a rate of about two a year, be- 
tween 1870 and 1880 the annual average hovered around a dozen, and 
in the decade before the turn of the century it rose to roughly thirty 
each year. International organizations also mushroomed: 25 new bodies 
created in the decade after 1870, 40 additional in the decade following, 
and 68 more still between 1890 and 1900. By the time the war broke 
out, there were roughly 300 such international scholarly bodies, most 
of them concentrated in the natural sciences, and their “international” 
character would play a starring role in the reaction to the Great War. 43 

Scientific conflicts share certain features with diplomatic and mili- 
tary ones. One might engage in a spirited debate about who was re- 
sponsible for initiating World War I — the Triple Alliance headlined 
by Germany and Austria-Hungary, or the Triple Entente of the United 
Kingdom, France, and Imperial Russia (the Americans joined in just 
before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 bowed the Russians out) — 
and likewise fingers can be pointed in multiple directions over whom to 
blame for the perceived “collapse” of scientific internationalism during 
and after the war. Since the victors typically write history and the En- 
tente unquestionably won, we can begin with their version. For scien- 
tists in France and the United Kingdom, the German “Aufruf,” the 
“Manifesto of the Ninety-Three,” cast the first stone. 

The War began well, or badly, depending on who you were. If you 
were Belgian, it began very badly indeed. German troops flooded into 
Belgium in a flanking attack directed at Paris, bypassing the reinforced 
Maginot Line on the border between the Reich and France, making 
amazing speed before the advent of trench warfare plunged the conflict 
into a standstill. The invasion of neutral Belgium triggered British entry 
as a belligerent, and also produced reams of hostile propaganda against 



German rapaciousness and reported atrocities. In response, a popular 
German playwright (and incidentally a celebrated translator from the 
French) named Ludwig Fulda persuaded a stellar array of ninety-two 
other intellectuals to attach their names to a declaration (. Aufruf ) “To 
the Cultured World,” which began with these outraged words: “We as 
representatives of German science and art raise a protest before the en- 
tire cultured world against the lies and slanders with which our enemies 
strive to besmirch Germany’s pure cause in the hard battle for existence 
imposed upon it.”* 44 The rest of its two pages proceeds pretty much as 
you might expect. 

The “representatives of German science and art” comprised over 
ten pages of signatories, and their credentials stunned intellectuals in 
the Entente nations. Six were chemists of international renown: Adolf 
von Baeyer, Karl Engler, Emil Fischer, Fritz Haber, Richard Willstatter, 
and — ettu, Brute ? — Wilhelm Ostwald. A host of other scientists, many 
laureates of the recently established Nobel Prize, followed, including 
Philipp Lenard, Ernst Haeckel, Wilhelm Forster, Konrad Rontgen, 
Walther Nernst, and Max Planck, among others. 45 The contrast be- 
tween the dignified status of the signatories and their tone of righteous 
umbrage on the one hand, and the horrific reports of massacres of civil- 
ians from the Belgian countryside on the other, combined a violation 
of international law (the invasion of neutral lands) with a violation of 
the neutrality of science. This sin against the internationalism of sci- 
ence would be repaid with interest by nationalist partisanship after the 
Armistice on n November 1918. 

Propaganda flowed both ways, and you might consider that the 
first transgression was the vilification of the “brutish Krauts” who had 
“raped Belgium.” The second scientific sin, however, was clearly Ger- 
man in origin, and it was terrible beyond imagination. On 22 April 
1915, as belligerent forces continued the interminable conflict outside 
the Belgian hamlet of Ypres, a greenish-yellow cloud wafted from Ger- 
man trenches over to Entente lines: chlorine gas. Thus German forces 
birthed chemical warfare, and the man who orchestrated the incredible 
mobilization of materiel and personnel to militarize the chemical in- 
dustry was none other than Fritz Haber, the brilliant chemist lauded 

*“Wir als Vertreter deutscher Wissenschaft und Kunst erheben vor der gesamten 
Kulturwelt Protest gegen die Liigen und Verleumdungen, mit denen unsere Feinde 
Deutschlands reine Sache in dem ihm aufgezwungenen schweren Daseinkampfe zu 
beschmutzen trachten.” 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


for his world-changing discovery of how to fix atmospheric nitrogen 
(and berated for his signature on the Manifesto). 46 After the war, the 
introduction of poison gas was decried as a war crime; during the war, 
all sides quickly piled on, adding phosgene, mustard gas, and Lewisite 
to arsenals in every army. This, then, was the state of international sci- 
ence when the guns went silent in 1918. 

Planning for postwar retribution to be inflicted on Central Euro- 
pean scientists, and especially those of the Kaiserreich (which would, as 
it happened, pass out of existence after the war, ceding to the Weimar 
Republic, Germany’s first democratic government), began months be- 
fore the end of the war. 47 The penalty seemed obvious: Germans had 
forfeited their right to participate in international science, and should 
be excluded from the new postwar scientific order. This was, as a French 
biologist declared, an obvious consequence of the Manifesto: 

The signatories of the manifesto have disqualified themselves as far 
as being men of science, and, in making common cause with Teu- 
tonic militarism, they are placed at the same level as the ferocious 
brutes accomplishing the most monstrous crimes under orders. 
They are much more culpable than these brutes because one can- 
not deny them intelligence. We can no longer have any confidence 
in their scientific productions and we can accept as correct only that 
which we have submitted to a severe critique and verified for our- 
selves; we must consider all their publications as suspect as any ob- 
ject made in Germany * 48 

The legal force to exclude German scientists was rooted in the humili- 
ating Treaty of Versailles. (This was the first major international accord 
whose English text was declared equally official to the French, ending al- 
most two centuries of French dominance in diplomacy. American Presi- 
dent Woodrow Wilson insisted on the change; the French naturally at 
first objected, but then acceded when it was clear the Italians and other 

*“Les signataires du manifeste se sont disqualifies, en tant qu’hommes de science, et, 
en se solidarisant avec le militarisme teuton, ils se sont mis au meme niveau que les 
brutes feroces accomplissant par ordre les crimes les plus monstrueux. Ils sont beau- 
coup plus coupables que ces brutes, car on ne peut leur denier l’intelligence. Nous ne 
pouvons plus avoir aucune confiance dans leurs productions scientifiques et nous ne 
pourrons accepter comme exact que ce que nous aurons soumis a une severe critique 
et verifie par nous-memes; nous devrons considerer comme suspectes toutes leurs 
publications comme tout objet made in Germany 

parties wanted to open the floodgates to a diplomatic Babel. 49 ) Articles 
282 and 289 of the Treaty allowed for intellectual penalties to be im- 
posed on the defeated powers, and a group of entrepreneurial scientists 
seized the opportunity in two phases. 50 

The first, and most notorious, was the Boycott . 51 In 1919, British, 
French, and Belgian scientists created a new scientific organization in 
Brussels, the International Research Council (IRC, to use the English 
acronym) to replace the International Association of Academies — the 
institution that had refused to rule on the Delegation’s proposals for an 
artificial auxiliary language. The IRC served as the umbrella organiza- 
tion for a series of “international unions” replacing prewar international 
scientific organizations, many of which had been based in Germany. 
The Executive Committee of the IRC consisted mostly of hardline 
anti-Germans, especially Emile Picard, Georges Lecointe, Vito Vol- 
terra, and the German-born British physicist Sir Arthur Schuster. Only 
the American representative, George Ellery Hale, was lukewarm. The 
Central Powers — that is, Germany and Austria, for Austria-Hungary 
was no more — were excluded from membership until at least 1931 by 
statute, and the victors stacked the deck against amendments by requir- 
ing that even former neutrals could only be included by a three-fourths 
supermajority . 52 Naturally, the official languages of such an organiza- 
tion would be French and English (regardless of Swiss grumbling ). 53 

It was a bad time to be a German scientist. Much of the process of 
actually doing science in this period was conducted at international 
conferences, and this was the chief target of the Boycott. There were 
fourteen international conferences in 1919; not a single German was 
invited. The next year saw twenty such events, and the Germans were 
excluded from 17 (85%). The intensity of the Boycott declined over the 
next five years, but only slightly: Germans were excluded from 22 of 36 
meetings (60%) in 1921, and 86 of 106 (81%) from 1922 to 192.4. The 
only silver lining was in the neutral countries, where only one of 21 con- 
ferences banned German and Austrian participation. Of the 275 inter- 
national science conferences of the Boycott period, Germans and Aus- 
trians were locked out of more than 60%. 54 (An exception was made 
for Albert Einstein, recognized as a pacifist and “good German” ever 
since his public opposition to the Manifesto. Einstein hated the Boy- 
cott, however, and often served as an intermediary to assist his German 
colleagues to publish abroad. 55 ) 

German scientists responded with outrage and a counter-boycott. 
For example, in 1922, the International Union for Theoretical and Ap- 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


plied Limnology held its congress in Kiel, in northern Germany, host- 
ing scholars from twenty countries. Participants from Entente nations 
were, however, banned. The original call for papers went out in English, 
French, and German, but the conference itself was held in German. 56 
The counter-offensive was largely successful in swaying public opinion, 
and was surely instrumental in the eventual reversal of the ban. “Such a 
boycotting of a specific cultural group, here the Central European one, 
is until now historically unprecedented,” Frankfurt’s newspaper de- 
clared in 1926. “The absurdity of such a decision is most obvious in the 
area of medicine and the sciences. They are not national, at least not in 
the chauvinistic sense, but international. A violent sundering of this sci- 
entific group is a transgression against science itself.”* 57 

At the same time, the leaders of German science, especially Fritz 
Haber, erected the Notgemeinschaft (Emergency Committee) on 30 
October 1920 in Berlin, unifying five academies of science, two other 
learned societies, and a host of universities and technical, veterinary, 
agricultural, forestry, and mining schools. The former Prussian Minis- 
ter of Culture, Friedrich Schmidt-Ott, helmed the self-governing body 
from October 1920 until 23 July 1934, as it disbursed government and 
industry money in grants to German scientists. Along with the Helm- 
holtz Society for the Advancement of Physical-Technical Research, 
it was the most important source of funding for university professors 
throughout the Weimar Republic . 58 In this manner, the Germans fash- 
ioned their own science unhinged from international interchange. 

Neutral Sweden helped by granting beleaguered German scientists 
an enormous share of world recognition. The Swedish Academy of Sci- 
ences played an outsized role through its ability to award Nobel Prizes 
in the sciences, and strongly German-oriented Swedish academics — 
many had studied in Germany and most Swedish scientists preferred 
to publish in German — obliged during Germany’s time of need. The 
first postwar Nobel in Chemistry was awarded to none other than Fritz 
Haber, at that moment roundly denounced for his role in the onset of 
chemical warfare. He was just one in the German sweep of the 1919 

' “I’ine derartige Boykottierung eines bestimmten Kulturkreises, hier des zentral- 
europaischen, ist bisher in der Geschichte ohne Beispiel. Die Widersinnigkeit eines 
solchen Beschlusses liegt vor allem fur das Gebiet der Medizin und der Naturwissen- 
schaften auf der Hand. Sie sind nicht national, wengistens nicht im chauvinistischen 
Sinne, sondern international. Eine gewaltsame Zerreifiung dieser Wissenschafts- 
kreise ist ein Vergehen an der Wissenschaft selbst.” 



prizes. Other Nobels to Germans followed during the 1920s (many to 
deserving scientists, to be sure), although none got the backs of the 
former Entente scientists up as much as Haber’s. 59 The Nobel prizes 
had skewed pro-German from the beginning of the war; Ostwald him- 
self traveled north during the conflict to argue that prizes for Ger- 
mans would be valuable in demonstrating the superiority of German 
culture. 60 As the leading historian of Nobel science prizes put it, the 
Swedish Academy’s “bias toward Germany was never disguised.” 61 Swe- 
den ignored the Boycott. 

Solidarity with Germans also came from a more surprising source: 
the newly established Soviet Union. Despite long-standing tensions be- 
tween German and Russian academics, Russophone scientists preferen- 
tially published in German and collaborated with German colleagues 
before the war, not least because of a sizable Baltic-German and Russo- 
German community at home. Imperial Russia was Imperial Germany’s 
foe during the war, but after the abortive February Revolution de- 
throned the Tsar but kept Russia in the conflict, Vladimir Lenin’s Bol- 
sheviks deployed their long-standing opposition to the military venture 
as a justification for their October 1917 (November in the Gregorian 
calendar) coup against the Provisional Government. The Communists 
became instant pariahs; in this misfortune they were soon joined by the 
Germans. In May 1921 Germany and the Soviet Union signed a provi- 
sional trade agreement; the following April, in the midst of a 34-nation 
economic summit in Genoa — one of the few international meetings 
either party was invited to join — the Russian and German represen- 
tatives absconded to nearby Rapallo and signed a treaty resuming full 
diplomatic and economic relations. A host of collaborations followed. 
In 1925, the Deutsch-Russische Medizinische Zeitschrift was founded, 
providing a Western-language outlet for Soviet scientists, and joint ven- 
tures abounded: a research expedition to Siberia here, a Brain Research 
Institute there (actually, in two places: Berlin and Moscow). 62 

If the Boycott of German scholars from conferences was the short- 
term punishment for perceived misdeeds during the war, the IRC’s sec- 
ond action would have more lasting consequences for the fate of Ger- 
man as a scientific language. The IRC’s “international unions” provided 
umbrellas for postwar scientific governance, and three were erected im- 
mediately: the International Astronomical Union, the International 
Geodesic and Geophysical Union, and, in July 1919, the International 
Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). To this day, IUPAC 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


governs global chemistry, serving as the court of final recourse to adju- 
dicate discovery claims of new elements (and the right to name them, 
thus creating the internationally recognized standard nomenclature 
that had been noticeably lacking in the nineteenth century). Like many 
of these organizations, IUPAC was actually a reactivation of a prewar 
institution — in this case, the International Association of Chemical 
Societies, proposed in 1910 by Wilhelm Ostwald and Albin Haller, 
president of the French Chemical Society — but now with the Germans 
excluded. 63 

Cutting out the Germans implied cutting out German. German 
had been an official language, with English and French, of the Inter- 
national Association; it was just as obvious to the IRC’s movers and 
shakers that it would not be permitted at IUPAC. Concern over the 
dominance of German, especially within chemistry, had been simmer- 
ing for some time. Four days before the Armistice, Science, the journal of 
the American Association for the Advancement of Science, published 
an editorial entitled “Insidious Scientific Control” by Edwin Bidwell 
Wilson, which noted that “it has been the feeling of many teachers and 
of many students that the German language was more essential for sci- 
entific uses than any other, and that the German training was the one 
to which our graduates who were not satisfied with what they found in 
this country should turn. This American feeling was undoubtedly ex- 
pressly fostered by the German government [. . .].” 64 Insidious indeed, 
and only compounded by the universal recognition that Germans had 
cornered the market on indispensible reference works. 65 Even interna- 
tional organizations like the League of Nations (which also excluded 
Germany and Austria) and philanthropies like the Rockefeller Founda- 
tion used medical and scientific grants with the explicit goal of trying to 
curb the German language. 66 In all these international venues, German 
was proscribed, and only (alongside Italian) granted a subsidiary status 
in IUPAC in 19 29. 67 

The exclusion of German as a language of science in an interna- 
tional scientific body might sound like a minor affront. Who would 
want to go to those boring meetings anyway? But precisely such stan- 
dardization bodies, which set the ground rules for scientific governance 
around the globe, have enormous long-term impacts that amounted to 
an almost irreversible lock-out of German — albeit with a time delay. 
There were different ways the official disapproval cascaded down to the 
mundane decisions everyday scientists made about which journals to 



submit to, or which languages to speak. As in most cases, the effects 
were not most strongly seen among the Germans themselves, who con- 
tinued to use their native language, nor among native Francophones 
and Anglophones, who used theirs. Rather, individuals who had once 
used a variety of vehicular languages — the Dutch, the Norwegians, the 
Portuguese — might now choose differently. The official languages al- 
lowed at conferences constrained the options. In 1932, for example, 
French was permitted as an official language at 351 (98.5%) of the inter- 
national conferences that year, and English at 298 (83.5%). The Boy- 
cott being over, German was officially permitted at 60.5% — nothing to 
sneeze at, but a far cry from the parity one would have expected in the 
prewar years. 68 Germany also never regained its leading position as a 
host country of international scientific conferences; from roughly 20% 
on the eve of the war, this number crashed to about 3% interwar. 69 

Foreigners also submitted to German journals rather less after the 
Great War than before, which entailed a measurable linguistic shift dif- 
ferentiated by discipline. Foreign contributions to German-language 
medical journals in 1920, for example, sank 50% (to a total of 23% of 
all submissions) compared with the level from 1913. The German jour- 
nals in physics and chemistry witnessed a similar effect: in 1920, 13% 
of the contributions were by foreigners, compared with 37% in 1913. 
Astronomy was even more drastic. Under 5% of the articles printed in 
Astronomische Nachrichten after the war came from British and Ameri- 
can contributors, down from i5%-20% in 1910, and zero Belgians and 
French submitted. This had the paradoxical effect of increasing the per- 
centage of German-language contributions from 60% in 1910 to over 
95% in 1920.' 0 The flip side, of course, was that foreign astronomers had 
moved elsewhere. 

The United States of English Speakers 

Another major reason World War I was a turning point in the history 
of scientific languages was the stunning eradication of knowledge of 
German as a foreign language among members of Entente nations, 
especially in the United States. I focus here on the United States for 
two reasons: first, the visceral reaction there against German was more 
pronounced, more violent, and more prolonged than in the other vic- 
torious countries; and second, because the tremendous growth of the 
American chemical industry during and after the war soon transformed 
the distant trans-Atlantic outpost into the most productive scientific 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


country in the world. That community was clearly largely Anglophone; 
the legacy of World War I made it also often non-Germanophone. 

Today, Americans are famous for being bad at foreign languages. It 
was not always this way. German was a dominant language of immi- 
grants to the American continent from before the Revolution, and the 
Continental Congress published translations of many of its proclama- 
tions into German as well as French. 71 Formal foreign language educa- 
tion was rather slow in establishing itself in the early Republic — the first 
licensed German teacher at Harvard College was Meno Poehls in 1816, 
although lackluster French had been taught there to supplement the 
ancient languages as early as 1733. 72 But foreign-language enrollments 
grew across the nineteenth century, and no modern language appeared 
to be more popular in the sprawling, industrializing country than Ger- 
man. By 1900, German had a firm foothold in the school curriculum 
at all levels. As many as 38% of accredited high schools in California 
offered at least two years of German in that year, and by 1908 that had 
risen to a stunning 98%, with many offering up to four years. In 1913 
72% of all high schools in the state, accredited or not, were teaching 
German, outstripping French in a pattern visible across the country. 
Universities followed suit. In 1910, of 340 institutions of higher edu- 
cation, all but three taught German, and 101 required some French or 
German to graduate. 73 Of course, in the Midwest, German was com- 
monly heard on the streets from the children and grandchildren of 
Central European immigrants, and parochial schools (and some public 
schools) sometimes taught entirely in the language. When the war ar- 
rived in 1914, the Americans were neutral; the figures for 1915 were as 
robust as before the conflict. 

The Americans entered the fray on 6 April 1917 after years of lobbying 
by President Woodrow Wilson, and the nationwide reaction against the 
German language was swiff and furious. In preparation for the impend- 
ing conflict, Congress had established a National Council for Defense 
in late August 1916, and local replicas with a good deal of autonomy 
proliferated at the state, county, and town level. Tire local Councils of 
Defense provided the mechanism for a populist assault on the German 
language: the Victoria City Council in Texas banned German in 1918; 
the city council in Findlay, Ohio, fined citizens $25 for speaking Ger- 
man on the streets; the select and common councils in Philadelphia — a 
city where German was almost as prevalent as English — appealed to 
the House of Representatives for a ban on the language in public meet- 
ings. In May 1918, Governor Warren S. Harding of Iowa (soon to be- 



come Woodrow Wilson’s short-lived successor) issued an order pro- 
hibiting the use of any language but English in public places, over the 
telephone, and on trains. (Though targeted at German, Harding’s reach 
was too broad, and Iowan Czechs and Danes protested.) Newspapers 
of every language were regulated, but German-language ones more so. 
In Collinsville, Illinois, Robert Prager, a German-born socialist, was 
lynched in April 1918. By the end of the war, 16 states had banned Ger- 
man, a move endorsed by former President Theodore Roosevelt, and 
after the war six more had joined them, bringing the total to 22. 

The laws did not last for long. Already after the Treaty of Versailles, 
a German teacher in Hamilton County, Nebraska, was convicted for 
teaching ten-year-old Raymond Parpart “the subject of reading in the 
German language,” thereby violating a Nebraska law passed on 9 April 
1919. The legislation was explicit: 

Section 1. No person, individually or as a teacher, shall, in any 
private, denominational, parochial or public school, teach any 
subject to any person in any language than the English language. 

Sec. 2. Languages, other than the English language, may be 
taught as languages only after a pupil shall have attained and 
successfully passed the eighth grade as evidenced by a certificate 
of graduation issued by the county superintendent of the county 
in which the child resides. 

The case reached the United States Supreme Court as Meyer v. Ne- 
braska, which declared such prohibitions unconstitutional in a 7-2 de- 
cision. Justice James Clark McReynolds observed in the decision that 
while “[t]he obvious purpose of this statute was that the English lan- 
guage should be and become the mother tongue of all children reared 
in this state,” nonetheless “[m]ere knowledge of the German language 
cannot reasonably be regarded as harmful.” Nebraska, and other states 
with similar laws on the books, had exceeded their rights under the 
fourteenth amendment, McReynolds concluded, for “[t]he protection 
of the Constitution extends to all, to those who speak other languages 
as well as to those born with English on the tongue.” ' 5 The dissenters 
consisted of the arch-conservative George Sutherland (a Harding ap- 
pointee) and the vaunted liberal lion Oliver Wendell Holmes (who 
ventured in Bartels v. Iowa, an analogous case, that “I think I appreci- 
ate the objection to the law but it appears to me to present a question 
upon which men reasonably might differ and therefore I am unable to 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 183 

say that the Constitution of the United States prevents the experiment 
being tried” 76 ). 

The laws had already wrought enormous damage. Even before 
the tremendous growth of high-school attendance that arrived later, 
315,884 students, 28% of all Americans enrolled in secondary school, 
were studying German in 1915; in 1922, before Meyer and therefore at 
the height of the proscription, there were fewer than 14,000 students 
of the language, scarcely over 0.5% of the national enrollment of 2.5 mil- 
lion. Even in Ohio, with its heavily Germanic population base, only five 
high schools offered German in 1925. By 1949, when the high-school 
population had more than doubled to 5.4 million, the absolute number 
of students in German had tripled to 43,000, a share of 0.8%. It never 
recovered. French (15.5% of students in 1922) and Spanish (10%) leapt 
into the breach, but not for long. 77 One lasting lesson of the tempo- 
rary criminalization of the German language is that when one foreign 
language suffers, they all do. Not only did the absolute number of stu- 
dents drop off, thus thinning those who might grow up into polyglot 
scientists, but the cadres of foreign-language teachers collapsed as well, 
beginning a vicious cycle that America would confront at the dawn of 
the Cold War. 

The Great Restructuring 

When the war was still raging, an American commentator lamented 
the fate of postwar American scientists, forced to deal with the legacy 
of scientific Teutons: “Our students should not have to feel that the 
great majority of the best expository works relating to their subject are 
to be found only in the language of a people of low ideals imbued with 
a morbid desire to dominate the world at any cost.” 78 The author tacitly 
pointed to a subtle restructuring in the interrelationships among scien- 
tific languages that would start to ripple through the scientific elite in 
the interwar years. Americans still studied in Germany and the reputa- 
tion of German scientists rebounded in the postwar years, but some- 
thing had changed for the Americans. While a scientist of Helmholtz’s 
stature was proud, even happy, to speak in multiple languages, young 
Americans who entered this brave new world of interwar chemistry 
imbibed something of the ambient hostility toward foreign tongues. 
American politics became increasingly isolationist and American edu- 
cation increasingly monoglot. As the American scientific juggernaut 
climbed to ever-greater heights, it brought with it a generalized reluc- 



tance to language study — after all, wasn’t the world’s important science 
already appearing in English? The consequences of the shifts born of 
World War I are with us now. 

But they were more or less invisible at the time. Europeans noticed 
the spasm of Anglomania striking the American heartland, but they 
saw it against a backdrop of anti- Germanism that bloomed after the 
war and just as quickly seemed to dwindle away. Much of the retreat 
was due to the diplomatic breach of the Boycott, led by prominent 
German scientists such as Fritz Haber, who in 1924 attended the cen- 
tenary of Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute as a German delegate of the 
Prussian Academy of Sciences and Berlin University. As historian Fritz 
Stern, whose family was friendly with the chemist, noted in his mem- 
oirs, Haber “argued that scientific achievement was the only physical 
pillar left of German strength, hoping as well to restore the interna- 
tional ties that the war had virtually destroyed.” 79 Small countries and 
neutral countries, especially those in Eastern Europe (former domains 
of the largely-Germanophone Habsburg Empire) still preferred Ger- 
man, and they pushed against the IRC’s strictures. 80 

At the sixth IUPAC conference in Bucharest, Romania, the Boycott 
was finally breached. Dutch chemist Ernst Cohen, who had earlier or- 
ganized a small meeting to which he had invited Germans and Austri- 
ans, was elected president, a sign that the end of German exclusion was 
nigh. In June 1926, five years before schedule, the Boycott was lifted and 
Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria were invited to join. Dele- 
gates came as guests to a 1928 chemistry conference in The Hague in 
1928, and Cohen happily greeted them in German. In the end, Germany 
only agreed to join IUPAC after its statutes had been modified to grant 
it full autonomy from the IRC. Progress on that front was much slower. 
Hungary acceded in 1927, and Bulgaria in 1934, but the Germanophone 
powers bided their time. Austria only joined the International Council 
of Scientific Unions (the successor to the IRC) in 1949, West Germany 
waited until 1952, and international outcast East Germany remained in 
the cold until 1961. 81 The language riff continued. German was still ex- 
cluded from the official languages of IUPAC and the IRC. The issue was 
raised at The Hague, but the threat of opening the floodgates even to 
so-called “minor languages” meant it was quickly tabled, even though 
the Germans had originally insisted on the inclusion of German as a 
precondition of joining the IRC. 

And what of Ostwald in this new international moment, the time of 
the League of Nations and a vanquished Boycott? He lived amid a sur- 

The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War 


prising efflorescence of Esperanto. The League debated allowing Espe- 
ranto as an official language, and both the British Association for the 
Advancement of Science and the French Academy of Sciences in 1921 
discussed favorably resolutions endorsing Esperanto as a solution to the 
language barrier. These were pleasant dreams, but they were no more 
viable in the long run than Weltdeutsch had been in the short run. Ost- 
wald spent increasing amounts of time working on his new theory of 
colors and devoted almost none to propagandizing for constructed lan- 
guages. In October 1931 he agreed, for old time’s sake, to being named 
the honorary president of a new Ido Academy. He died the following 



Soviel und welche Sprache einer spricht, soviel und solche Sache, Welt 
oder Natur ist ihm erschlossen. Und jedes Wort, das er redet, wandelt die 
Welt, worin er sich bewegt, wandelt ihn selbst und seinen Ort in dieser 
Welt. Darum ist nichts gleichgiiltig an der Sprache, und nichts so wesent- 
lich wie die fa^on de parler. Der Verderb der Sprache ist der Verderb des 
Menschen. Seien wir auf der Hut! Worte und Satze konnen ebensowohl 
Garten wie Kerker sein, in die wir, redend, uns selbst einsperren, und 
die Bestimmung, Sprache sei allein die Gabe des Menschen oder eine 
menschliche Gabe, bietet keine Sicherheit.* 




German science entered the 1930s triumphant. The Boycott had been 
lifted in 1926, and Germans now attended and hosted international 
conferences, bathed in the glow of self-righteousness as victims of an 
unheard-of transgression against scientific internationalism. German 
scientists raked in Nobel Prize after Nobel Prize, and foreign students 
flocked to German universities to study at the feet of the titans of the 
newly emergent quantum physics, then taking the physical sciences by 
storm. The slow-acting poison pill of the exclusion of the German lan- 
guage from international organizations, the looming threat of competi- 
tion from American science, and the teeming youngsters of the United 
States who would grow up without significant exposure to foreign 

*“As many and which languages a person speaks, so many and such things, world, or 
nature is accessible to him. And each word that he speaks changes the world in which 
he moves, changes himself and his place in this world. Thus nothing is indifferent to 
language, and nothing so essential as th efagon de parler. The woes of language are the 
woes of persons. We are on guard! Words and sentences can be just as much gardens 
as dungeons in that we, speaking, lock ourselves up, and the definition that language 
is alone a gift of persons or a personal gift offers no security.” 



languages — all of these were invisible threats to the dominance of Ger- 
man as a language of science. German still shared the stage with French 
and English, but the former was evidently in a process of slow decline, 
and as for English — well, while it was clear that the Americans had over- 
taken the British as the leaders of Anglophone science and were flood- 
ing journals with publications, one could always debate about quality. 

Yet, by the end of that decade, the position of German had notice- 
ably changed. Scientists, linguists, and historians ever since have con- 
verged on a single point of blame: Adolf Hitler. 2 The timeline accords 
well with such an account. In September 1930, the National Socialist, 
or Nazi, Party (NSDAP) won 107 seats in the Reichstag, the parlia- 
ment of the Weimar Republic, bespeaking the growing appeal of ag- 
gressive right-wing populism. True, war hero Paul von Hindenburg de- 
feated Hitler in the presidential elections of March 1932, but it was only 
a temporary setback; in parliamentary elections four months later, the 
Nazis bagged 230 seats. It seemed only a matter of time before Hitler, 
the charismatic Austrian-born leader, would be appointed chancellor, 
which indeed happened on 30 January 1933. Germany was still a demo- 
cratic republic, but not for long. On 27 February 1933 the Reichstag 
caught fire in an act of arson whose ultimate origins remain murky, and 
even in the wake of the crisis the NSDAP failed to gain an absolute 
majority in the elections of 5 March, due to continued electoral success 
by the communists. Nonetheless, Hitler pushed through the so-called 
Enabling Bill ( Ermiichtigungsgesetz ) on 23 March, which he then used 
to exclude communists from local government. From there, the story 
is sadly familiar: an expansion of German armed forces in violation of 
the Treaty of Versailles, increasingpersecution of Jews within the newly 
dubbed “Third Reich” (third, that is, after the Holy Roman Empire and 
the Kaiserreich ), the sacrifice of increasing swaths of Central Europe to 
Hitler, and then the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, igniting 
World War II. 

Observed from a distance, it seems obvious that the Third Reich — 
which wrecked Germany’s economy, cities, and moral reputation, and 
committed the horrific atrocities of the Holocaust of European Jews 
and the slaughter of countless other innocents — was the great caesura 
of European history, and the history of the German scientific language 
should be expected to track. A close look at the graph presented in the 
introduction tells a somewhat different story. German continued to be 
an important language of science in the 1930s; in fact, its percentage 
share in some czscs greio. Instead of a precipitous drop during the Third 



Reich, one rather observes a gradual diminishing of the language’s place 
in the scientific literature, the unfurling of a process that had begun 
with the Great War. If we want to see the Nazis’ impact on German as a 
language of science, then publications are not the best place to search. 
Much of this book has focused on written communication among 
scientists, for good reasons, but there are other ways in which languages 
matter to science, and this chapter stresses these usually tacit aspects of 
language, made visible by the unique trauma that beset German science. 

Those who emphasize the politics promulgated by the Nazi state 
point to an important facet of the history, for the manner in which 
Germanophone science was conducted during the Third Reich had an 
enormous bearing on the shape and the rate of the ensuing decline, if 
not on its onset. Aside from publishing, scientists teach, and the effort 
of putting together lectures is substantial even in one’s native tongue, 
let alone a foreign one. Scientists also collaborate with colleagues, medi- 
ated through oral and written communication. Last, but far from least, 
they live as human beings in a milieu saturated by the words of others, 
both political speech and everyday excursions to the store or to work. 
This chapter explores what it meant to live in surroundings where the 
German language — one’s native language — became politicized, laden 
with hitherto unexpected burdens. Therefore, before relating the ways 
individual Germanophone scientists spoke and wrote both inside and 
outside Germany, we must step back and examine structural issues 
(such as employment and unemployment), restrictions on travel, and 
commentary by intellectuals, linguists, and ideologues about the mean- 
ing of German. People live in language in these registers as well, and 
sometimes they are kicked out of them. 

Tlie first part of this chapter follows policy changes in the sciences, 
continuing the historical explanation begun in the previous chapter, 
but to end with those developments would only give the outline of the 
story. The reaction against scientific German was not only a direct con- 
sequence of enrollments and academic careers, it was also about human 
lives crushed by hatred and violence. Language is perhaps our most per- 
sonal possession, and the particular language each of us considers his 
or her “mother tongue” — to use the term of art most often deployed in 
the 1930s, with all its gendered and (as it happens) National Socialist 
connotations — expresses something deeply intimate for each of us. Be- 
ginning outward but then focusing in on scientists in the second half 
of the chapter, we will see the way these personal valences of language 
were deployed by scientists, both to express their sincere dismay but also 



to dramatize to others (sometimes sensationally) the rupture the Nazi- 
imposed emigration placed on long-standing relationships. 

The Great Purge 

Hitler’s Reichstag wasted no time implementing the racist and anti- 
Semitic agenda that he had been broadcasting across Germany for a 
decade. For scientists, many of whom were employed in higher educa- 
tion and thus were civil servants, one of the most momentous acts was 
also among the earliest: the Law for the Restoration of the Professional 
Civil Service, passed on 7 April 1933. In its final — strange to imagine, 
softened — form, the law dismissed three categories of employees from 
the civil service: those of “non-Aryan” descent (mostly Jews), mem- 
bers of socialist or communist parties, and political appointees of the 
Weimar Republic. (The softening, at the insistence of von Hindenburg, 
exempted veterans of the Great War and those who had lost a father or 
son in combat.) Almost immediately, German universities were rocked 
with firings and resignations. 

There is no question the impact of the Civil Service Law was severe. 
The hardest-hit discipline appears to be physics, especially theoretical 
physics, which had over the years acquired — especially in the north of 
Germany as opposed to the predominantly Catholic south — a substan- 
tial proportion of scientists of Jewish origin. Some estimate as many 
as 25% of physicists across the entire country were fired, and at certain 
centers, most prominently Gottingen, almost the entire department of 
physics and mathematics was gutted. Later estimates place the impact 
lower, factoring in other sciences, but not much lower: about one in 
five, or 20%, of scientists had been driven from their jobs by 1935, fol- 
lowed by another wave when Austria was annexed in 1938 and its in- 
stitutions (and its citizens working within the Third Reich) were sub- 
jected to Nazi laws . 3 Some disciplines, such as biology, got oft “lighter,” 
but only as a result of there being relatively fewer Jews appointed: ap- 
proximately 13% of biologists were fired between the Law’s passage and 
1938, and four-fifths were for racial reasons. Three-quarters, in a pattern 
that we will return to shortly, emigrated, never to return . 4 

Chemistry was also badly damaged. Fritz Haber, the architect of 
chemical warfare, the discoverer of the eponymous “Haber process” to 
fix atmospheric nitrogen, and the 1918 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, was 
stripped of his directorship of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Chem- 
istry in November 1933, whereupon he emigrated in despair to Lon- 



don. All five department directors in the newly Nazified institute were 
NSDAP members, three of them alteKampfer (“old fighters”) who had 
joined the Party before Hitler’s unsuccessful 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in 
Munich, a significant indicator of loyalty to the regime and its poli- 
cies. Twenty- eight Jewish employees were summarily fired after the “co- 
ordination” ( Gleichschaltung ) of the institute. The higher status and tra- 
ditional political conservatism of German chemists meant that fewer 
Jews had reached positions that would have demanded firing, but the 
enormous size of the German Chemical Society and the Union of Ger- 
man Chemists — with 40% of their 4,000 members living outside the 
Reich — meant that the high degree of conformity to the Nazi state had 
wide reverberations. 5 

The fortunate ones emigrated, their international reputations — 
gained, of course, by the willingness of foreign scientists to read their 
German-language publications — securing them positions abroad. Al- 
though modest in terms of absolute numbers, the high quality of the 
emigres was exceptional. Almost all set sail for the United States. The 
vast majority of all dismissed German-speaking mathematicians, for ex- 
ample, passed through Ellis Island; more than 100 refugee physicists 
also arrived between 1933 and 1941. They were not only gifted scientists, 
they were also overwhelmingly young, with most under 40 and having 
received their doctorates after 1921. Their youth and quality were not 
accidental: the ad hoc Emergency Committee in the United States that 
attempted to find work for displaced scientists focused on scholars over 
the age of 35 (old enough to have made a substantial name for them- 
selves) but under 58 (to avoid putting a strain on the pension systems of 
the institutions that hired them). 6 A small subset of scientists, predomi- 
nantly physicians, headed eastward to the Soviet Union, where learning 
the new language posed a consequential hurdle. 7 

Although an admittedly significant transformation of German aca- 
demia, we should be careful before attributing too large an impact to 
this emigration of the most gifted. Elite scientists represented only a 
fragment of the very large German knowledge-production system. 
The emigration did not bleed away most of Germany’s talent, but it 
did inflict a significant threefold harm on German as a scientific lan- 
guage. First, symbolically, foreign scientists began to view the German 
state with revulsion and expressed reluctance to “collaborate” with the 
regime in any way. Second, those scientists who left almost all ended 
up in Anglophone contexts, continuing their high-quality research in a 
new tongue. The third change was the most immediate and perhaps the 



one with the longest-lasting consequences: the rupture of the graduate- 
student and postdoctoral exchange networks. 

As we saw in the previous chapter, one of the most salient indica- 
tions of the importance of German science was the centrality of Ger- 
man universities as the destination of choice for foreign students. Some 
of America’s most famous scientists, such as J. Robert Oppenheimer 
and Linus Pauling, did their graduate work at German universities. As 
a side effect, they acquired, and later continued to use, the language. 
This was also true of Japanese scientists. The modernizing Meiji regime 
in the late nineteenth century hired dozens of foreign professors ( oya - 
toi ) to staff new universities, insisting that the academics lecture in their 
native tongues to encourage the students to learn Western languages. 
Most oyatoi were German. When these professors sent their best stu- 
dents for training to the West, they naturally sent them preferentially 
to Germany, to the tune of 74% of Japanese students studying abroad in 
the early twentieth century. 8 The dismissals removed some of the incen- 
tive to travel to Germany, even if foreigners — especially Americans in 
the throes of isolationism and the Great Depression — had been willing 
to resettle to the Third Reich. 9 These networks did not reassemble until 
after the war, and they reassembled with the United States as the hub. 

Travel by scientists to and from Hitler’s Germany became much 
harder. In 1935 the Reich Education Ministry (REM) assumed control 
of all lectures by foreigners within Germany; it also decided whether a 
German scholar would make a fitting representative abroad. The tor- 
rent of international exchange dried up, and Germans had to change 
their patterns of collaboration. (Cooperation with Italian mathemati- 
cians flourished, for example, as an offshoot of Axis fellowship.) Scien- 
tists who lived in zones under German control, such as the Protector- 
ate of Bohemia and Moravia that had been carved out of the former 
Czechoslovakia, were also not permitted to go abroad except as part of 
the “German” delegation, and were required to speak German if they 
wanted to use any language except Czech or Slovak. (They were forbid- 
den from lecturing within the Reich proper.) 10 

These obstacles had the predictable consequence of snapping con- 
nections with foreign scientists. As an indication of the extent of the 
rupture, consider the guests who stayed at Harnack Haus, founded in 
1929 in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin to house visiting schol- 
ars. (Many of the leading Kaiser Wilhelm institutes in the sciences 
were located nearby.) The numbers from 1930 to 1933 were stable, with 
about 200 visitors ayear, fewer than half of whom were foreign. In 1933, 



the number of foreigners fell by nearly half, replaced by an uptick of 
Germans traveling to Berlin from distant parts of the country — from 
45% foreigners in 1932-1933, the number the following academic year 
dropped to 23%. The original ratio of foreigners to Germans did not re- 
sume until 1937-1938, and then the mix of nations was rather different: 
whereas in 1930-1933, Americans had comprised roughly thirty guests 
a year (about one-third of all foreigners), they now represented fewer 
than fifteen a year, replaced by South Africans, Romanians, Dutch, and 
French (the latter two would later fall under military occupation). 11 

But even with all the purging, emigration, and ruptured collabo- 
rations, German science appeared to be functioning. Certainly, scien- 
tific journals under the Nazis came out regularly and published work 
of good quality, and most scientists (until the war) felt little disruption 
in their work. Foreign scientists may not have traveled to Germany as 
often, but they still submitted to German journals in noticeable num- 
bers (although here, too, the distribution of nations had shifted). There 
were, however, changes under the surface, as Emil Julius Gumbel — a 
famously anti-Nazi mathematician who had been forced out of his Hei- 
delberg position as early as 1932 and was living in France — observed: 

Purely externally most of the physical and mathematical journals 
seem to be unchanged. They have preserved their appearance. Only 
upon closer examination does one notice the absences in the world- 
renowned names: the Jews are eliminated. Against this the propor- 
tion of foreign collaborators has grown, since the journals exercise 
a considerable attraction on the basis of their earlier quality. The 
quality of the domestic collaborators has dropped; the scientific off- 
spring are partially abandoned. The system is proud of the fact that 
the number of students has dropped by half. Oddly the past often 
changes. Certain authors are no longer cited; their earlier achieve- 
ments are ascribed to impeccable Nordic men; their current works 
1 * 12 

are ignored. 

' “Rem ausserlich sehen die meisten physikalischen und mathematischen Zeit- 
schriften unverandert aus. Ihr Gesicht haben sie gewahrt. Erst bei naherer Betracht- 
ung bemerkt man das Fehlen von weltbekannten Namen: die Juden sind ausgemerzt. 
Dagegen wuchs der Anteil der auslandischen Mitarbeiter, da die Zeitschriften auf 
Grund ihres friiheren Niveaus eine betrachtliche Anziehungskraft ausubten. Das 
Niveau der inlandischen Mitarbeiter senkte sich; der wissenschaftliche Nachwuchs 
setzt zum Teil aus. Das System ist stolz darauf, dass die Zahl der Studenten auf die 
Halfte herunterging. Eigentumlich wandelt sich vielmals die Vergangenheit. Gewisse 



Foreign submissions to German journals declined, both because new 
regulations restricted the percentage of “non-Aryans” who could appear 
in each issue, but mostly because foreigners had ceased making German 
journals their outlets of choice . 13 Citations also changed: about 37% of 
citations in mathematics articles from 1921 to 1925 — at the height of the 
Boycott — had been to German journals, and this number rose to 39% 
for 1926-1930; but from 1931 to 1935 the number had sunk to 28%. In 
the meantime, citations to American journals rose from 14% to 25%, 
picking up German’s lost ground . 14 One should not exaggerate: Ger- 
man was still an essential language for science in the Nazi years; it was 
just, little by little, somewhat less important. 

The Browning of German 

Some of the luster of the German language may have faded for foreign 
scientists, but that was more than made up by the assiduous attention 
the Nazi state paid to the language in general. These broader linguistic 
contexts are essential in order to understand the ways in which emigre 
scientists responded to their native language. It is almost impossible to 
read any statements about German by the regime or regime-friendly 
scholars without coming across the adulation of the Muttersprache, or 
“mother tongue.” The first recorded reference to the term dates as far 
back as 1119 (in Latin, as it happens), but appeared in Low German in 
1424 and High German in 1520, becoming crucial for the latter. There 
was no notion more central to linguistics under the Third Reich . 15 

“Mother tongue” might today have roughly the same meaning as 
“native tongue,” but that was hardly the case for those living in the Ger- 
man ophone world in the 1930s and 1940s. The motherness of it all con- 
veyed lineal heritage, birthright, and intimacy, and quickly became 
wrapped up in the anti-Semitic quagmire of so much Nazi intellectual 
output. Jews, so it was said, had no mother tongue, having given up 
ancestral Hebrew — for centuries a subject of great interest to German 
philologists — in favor of a mongrelized Yiddish, an earlier variant of 
other Jewish linguistic Trojan horses like Esperanto. Language for Jews, 
supposedly, was a matter of communication alone, which was why they 
so glibly assimilated dominant languages like German, though they 
could not truly, in their core, understand its depth and richness . 16 

Autoren werden nicht mehr zitiert; ihre friiheren Leistungen werden einwandfreien 
Nordmannern zugeschrieben; ihre jetzigen Arbeiten werden ignoriert.” 



The language, the new consensus among German linguists would 
have it, was intrinsically for Germans. (No hint here of creating a sim- 
plified Weltdeutsch a la Wilhelm Ostwald; no linguistic concessions 
would be made to the conquered.) “One often hears it said that no 
people feels itself more tightly and deeply bound to its mother tongue 
than the Germans,”* wrote Leo Weisgerber, Lorraine-born specialist in 
Celtic linguistics, in 1941, and perhaps no better illustration can serve 
for the tenor of this new language ideology than his musings, distinc- 
tive only in their clarity and the intellectual reputation of their author. 17 
Even in the throes of enthusiasm for his own “mother tongue,” Weisger- 
ber was willing to concede that “ [o] ther peoples also recognize the con- 
nection to their languages, and if the French have worked with persis- 
tent care on the structure of their language, or the English as a matter of 
course (which surprises us) have carried their language throughout the 
entire world, then those are also forms of expression of a very strongly 
felt connectedness, and in their immediate success they are very con- 
vincing as so much enthusiasm for the mother tongue.” His tolerance 
had limits: 

But despite the fact that each people feels the far-reaching effects 
of language in its own life, there remains for us Germans an occa- 
sion for ever-renewed reflection, namely that among the peoples of 
Europe the Germans are the only ones that have named themselves 
after their mother tongue. That is an unmistakable demonstration 
that the mother tongue is involved in the construction of the life of 
our people to an especial degree[. . .]. 1 18 

*“Man hort oft sagen, kein Volk fiihle sich mit seiner Muttersprache enger und tiefer 
verbunden als das deutsche.” 

^ “Auch die anderen Volker wissen um die Bindung an ihre Sprachen, und wenn die 
Franzosen in unentwegtem Miihen an dem Ausbau ihrer Sprache gearbeitet oder die 
Englander in einer uns iiberraschenden Selbstverstandlichkeit ihre Sprache durch 
die ganze Welt getragen haben, so sind das auch Ausdrucksformen einer sehr stark 
gespiirten Verbundenheit, und in ihrem unmittelbaren Erfolg sind sie sogar man- 
cher Schwarmerei fiir die Muttersprache weit iiberlegen. Aber ungeachtet der Tat- 
sache, dafi jedes Volk die weitreichenden Wirkungen der Sprache in seinem eigenen 
Leben spurt, bleibt doch uns Deutschen eines als AnlaB zu immer erneutem Nach- 
denken, dafi namlich unter den Volkern Europas das deutsche das einzige ist, das sich 
nach seiner Muttersprache genannt hat. Das ist ein unverkennbarer Hinweis darauf, 
dafi am Aufbau unseres Volkslebens die Muttersprache in besonderem MaBe betei- 
ligtistf. ..].” 



In a familiar pattern, Weisgerber was happy to ascribe the intellectual 
achievements of the Germans to language: “where we encounter be- 
fore us the achievements of German technology, we will bump into the 
thankful preparation of these creations through the application of lin- 
guistic means; where German science acts, it will never be able to en- 
tirely set itself free of the assumptions of the German language during 
all its efforts toward truth.”* 19 Of all sciences, none was so specifically 
German as the science of language itself, declared Hermann Flasdieck, 
professor of English philology at the University of Koln: “Tire history 
of German -born linguistics is a facet of the examination of German and 
English natures and styles of thinking, and it is no coincidence that pre- 
cisely linguistics as the most German of all sciences finds no nourishing 
soil on the other side of the Channel.” 1 20 

Weisgerber and Flasdieck were simply repeating a central plank of 
dominant ideology, reflecting the obsessive fixation of Nazi leaders on 
language and its uses. 21 German itself began to shift under the pressure 
of vituperative editorials and harangues in mass meetings. These lin- 
guistic transformations were only rarely legislated from above, although 
occasionally even that happened — for example, on 13 December 1937, 
the state “abolished” the word Volkerbund (League of Nations), and 
on the very day that World War II began with the Polish invasion, it 
decreed that the word tapfer (brave) could be collocated only with 
deutsch ! 22 Most of the demonstrable changes in German usage hap- 
pened in a more organic manner, as the structure and especially lexicon 
of private discourse began to mirror public pronouncements. 23 

Critics of the regime — no less Germanophone than Flasdieck and 
Weisgerber — were shocked at these developments, and carefully docu- 
mented precisely the shape of this (mostly) unconscious Nazification of 
German. One obvious change was the growing abundance of military 
metaphors, but the influences reached beyond content to form. Nazi 
discourse tended to nominalize verbs and adjectives: nouns were the 
way thoughts should be expressed. Verbs became more violent, more 

*“wo uns Leistungen der deutschen Technik vor Augen treten, werden wir in der 
gedanklichen Vorbereitung dieser Schopfungen auf den Einsatz sprachlicher Mittel 
stofien; wo deutsche Wissenschaft wirkt, wird sie bei allem Streben nach Wahrheit 
sich von den Voraussetzungen der deutschen Sprache nie ganz loslosen konnen.” 

+ “Die Geschichte der deutschgeborenen Sprachwissenschaft ist ein Teilaspekt der 
Auseinandersetzung deutscher und englischer Wesensform und Denkart, und es ist 
kein Zufall, dafi gerade die Sprachwissenschaft als die vielleicht deutscheste aller 
Wissenschaften keinen Nahrboden jenseits des Kanals findet.” 



forceful, explained Eugen Seidel and Ingeborn Seidel-Slotty in their 
1961 publication of a manuscript they had begun working on, clan- 
destinely, in the 1930s: “The language of Nazism does not want to ex- 
plain ( darlegen ), it wants to ‘hammer ( einhiimmern ).”* 24 “Further one 
should also one more time point to the fact,” they continued, “that the 
language of Nazism is not entirely new, but rather is drawn from various 
styles and directions, and that only the strength and the extent of this 
influence signifies something new for the language.” ' 25 

Others, such as Victor Klemperer, a Jewish academic who survived 
in hiding in Dresden throughout the war and whose diaries provide a 
penetrating account of life in the Third Reich, disagreed. Something 
new ivas going on, so novel that he christened it LTI, Lingua Tertii 
Imperii (the language of the Third Reich). From the moment of his 
first encounter — the first LTI word he heard, he vividly recalled, was 
Strafexp edition (punishment expedition) — he became attuned to the 
phenomenon: “everything that was printed and said in Germany was 
entirely standardized to the Party; that which deviated from the per- 
missible form in any way did not penetrate to the public; book and 
newspaper and official letter and form for a job opening — everything 
swam in the same brown sauce, and this absolute uniformity of the 
written language explains the homogeneity of the form of speaking.” 1 26 
Klemperer, along with the other critics, adhered to something akin to 
the Whorfian hypothesis that language shapes thought: 

But language composes and thinks not only for me, it also guides 
my feeling, it directs my entire spiritual nature — the more self- 
evident it is, the more unconsciously I abandon myself to it. And if 
formulated language is now formed out of poisonous elements or 
is made into the bearer of poisons? Words can be like tiny doses of 

*“Die Sprache des Ns. will nicht darlegen, sie will ‘ einhdmmern’.” 

“l erner ist auch noch einmal auf die Tatsache hinzuweisen, dafi die Sprache des Ns. 
nichts vollkommen Neues ist, sondern aus verschiedenen Stilarten und Richtungen 
entnommen, und dal? nur die Starke und Verbreitung dieses Einflusses etwas Neues 
fur die Sprache bedeutet.” 

: “alles, was in Deutschland gedruckt und geredet wurde, war ja durchaus parteiamt- 
lich genormt; was irgendwie von der einen zugelassenen Form abwich, drang nicht 
an die Offentlichkeit; Buch und Zeitung und Behordenzuschrift und Formulare 
einer Dienststelle — alles schwamm in derselben braunen Solie, und aus dieser abso- 
luten Einheitlichkeit der Schriftsprache erklarte sich denn auch die Gleichheit der 



arsenic: they are absorbed unwittingly, they seem to have no effect, 
and after a certain time the effect of the poison is just there. If for a 
long enough time a person says for “heroic” and “brave” the word 
“fanatical,” he actually finally believes that a fanatic is a brave hero, 
and that without fanaticism one cannot be a hero .* 27 

Such observations were common among adherents of the regime 
as well as critics. Specifically concerning the language used for scien- 
tific discourse, Lothar Tirala — an Austrian psychologist and zoologist 
notorious for his doctrines of race hygiene — observed that the active 
character of German science was reflected in language, and vice versa: 
“The preference for a passive construction is for the Latin exactly as 
characteristic as the preference for the active for the German .” 1 28 For 
postwar observers in the United States, the outcome for scientific Ger- 
man was substantially darker: “The Romance element in German which 
would have made its scientific vocabulary identical with those all over 
the world has been beaten and kicked by militant boots until its impor- 
tance has visibly faded .” 29 But it was not just in language that there were 
attempts to partially Nazify German science. 

Consider, this time through a linguistic perspective, the abortive 
project to produce an “Aryan Physics” ( Deutsche Physik ) that has been 
extensively studied by scholars. Among the luminaries of the German 
physics community in the interwar years were two “old fighters,” Philipp 
Lenard and Johannes Stark, both Nobel Laureates (the former for his 
experimental measurements of the photoelectric effect, the latter for his 
discovery of the splitting of atomic spectral lines in an electric field). As 
Hitler solidified his hold on power, Lenard and Stark saw an opportu- 
nity to bring Nazi ideology into the heart of physics. They petitioned 
the Education Ministry to replace the highly mathematical, theoreti- 
cal approach to elite physics dominant in what they saw as “Jewish” 

*“Aber Sprache dichtet und denkt nicht nur fur mich, sie lenkt auch mein Gefiihl, sie 
steuert mein ganzes seelisches Wesen, je selbstverstandlicher, je unbewufiter ich mich 
ihr iiberlasse. Und wenn nun die gebildete Sprache aus giftigen Elementen gebildet 
oder zur Tragerin von Giftstoffen gemacht worden ist? Worte konnen sein wie win- 
zige Arsendosen: sie werden unbemerkt verschluckt, sie scheinen keine Wirkung zu 
tun, und nach einiger Zeit ist die Giftwirkung doch da. Wenn einer lange genug fur 
heldisch und tugendhaft: fanatisch sagt, glaubt er schlieElich wirklich, ein Fanatiker 
sei ein tugendhafter Held, und ohne Fanatismus konne man kein Held sein.” 

+ “Die Vorliebe fur eine passive Konstruktion ist fur den Lateiner gerade so kenn- 
zeichnend wie fur den Deutschen die Vorliebe fur das Aktive.” 



science with a more “ Deutsch ” physics based on experiment and con- 
crete intuition. At the core of Aryan Physics resided a hostility to quan- 
tum theory and relativity, both ably represented by its arch-theorist, 
renowned pacifist and Zionist celebrity Albert Einstein. Rather than 
lament the sundered ties of international collaboration, Stark virtually 
exulted in the autarky of science in the Third Reich, as expressed in this 
1934 pamphlet: 

The catchphrase has been coined and is broadcast especially from 
the Jewish side that science is international. [. . .] Against this it must 
be enunciated with all emphasis from the National Socialist side 
that in a National Socialist state the obligation toward the nation 
against all other obligations holds also for scientists; the scientific 
researcher also has to feel himself as a member and servant of the 
nation; he is nothing in himself or for the sake of science, but in the 
first place has to serve the nation with his work. Therefore none who 
are foreign to the people can stand in the leading scientific positions 
in a National Socialist state, but rather only nationally conscious 
German men can.* 30 

The year 1934 was a good one for Aryan Physics, as Bernhard Rust, the 
education minister, wrested the Department of Culture from its former 
home in the Reich Interior Ministry, dismissing Friedrich Schmidt-Ott 
from his decade-long control of the invaluable Notgemeinschaft that 
had sustained German science during the Boycott. Rust replaced him 
with Stark. 31 From there, however, Aryan Physics went downhill, as 
Rust resented interference in his bailiwick and other powerful factions 
in the Nazi regime became persuaded that the advance of militarily valu- 
able research required both quantum and relativity theories — although 
they should be taught, naturally, without reference to Einstein. The 

* “Es ist das Schlagwort gepragt und besonders von jiidischer Seite verbreitet worden, 
die Wissenschaft sei international. [. . .] Demgegeniiber muE von nationalsozia- 
listischer Seite mit allem Nachdruck betont werden, daE im nationalsozialistischen 
Staat auch fur den Wissenschaftler die Verpflichtung gegeniiber der Nation iiber 
alien anderen Verpflichtungen steht; auch der wissenschaftliche Forscher hat sich 
als Glied und Diener der Nation zu fiihlen; er ist nicht um seiner selbst oder um der 
Wissenschaft willen da, sondern hat mit seiner Arbeit in erster Linie der Nation zu 
dienen. Darum konnen im nationalsozialistischen Staate an den fuhrenden wissen- 
schaftlichen Stellen nicht volksfremde, sondern nur nationalbewufite deutsche Man- 
ner stehen.” 



established physics journals continued for the most part uninflected by 
Lenard and Stark’s program; ideological articles were relegated to a new 
journal, Zeitschrift fur die gesamte Natu nvissen schaji . 3 2 Aryan Physics 
crumbled without top-down support, but not without causing a lot of 

Aryan Physics obviously reveals a good deal about the tensions be- 
tween science and the Nazi state, but it also exhibits an important fea- 
ture of language, one which often passes by without comment: silence. 
Stark did not laud the German language as essential for science, nor 
was it highlighted in Philipp Lenard’s new textbook for Aryan Physics, 
where race was clearly the dominant category. 33 Explicit commentary 
about scientific languages appears only when a language seems to be 
threatened or when the choice of language is not obvious. During the 
Boycott, both the avenging victors and the besieged Germanophones 
brought the question up constantly because both felt themselves to 
be threatened by foreign tongues; likewise in the debates over Espe- 
ranto and Ido. In today’s science, almost entirely dominated by global- 
ized English, Anglophones almost never raise the question of scientific 
languages — that is done by native speakers of other languages, espe- 
cially Germanophones and Francophones who lament the transforma- 
tion. Latin’s eclipse, too, was not bemoaned until it was already a fait 
accompli; when it was dominant, people rarely discussed the necessity 
of writing in it. 

For Lenard and Stark, it was simply obvious that German scientists 
would write in German, and ideally with less mathematical formalism 
and therefore more linguistic content. Not only was that the patriotic 
and ideologically correct thing to do, but it was also the case that writ- 
ing in German incurred no costs for international communication. As 
a result, linguistic policing remained a secondary concern: everyone in 
the Third Reich would maintain Germanophone uniformity by simply 
following self-interest. To see the change brought about by this confi- 
dence, contrast Lenard’s vituperative attack on English science at the 
dawn of World War I. “One notices in the last ten years in the litera- 
ture of my science something like the following: England gives itself 
the appearance of solitary leadership; outwardly the results achieved 
are richly used, however only openly where they play no essential role; 
otherwise they are annexed with the help of a certain circumvention,” 
Lenard wrote in 1914. “The origin finds itself recognized in these cases 
somewhere deep in the interior of the publication or only in an ancillary 
publication that is difficult to obtain; sometimes also helpful material 



is used through direct historical distortion.”* 34 That is, English science 
was derivative of German originals but refused to cite properly, and it 
could get away with it by hiding behind the veil of a foreign language. 

Just because Nazi enthusiasts were confident about the continued 
dominance of the German language within science does not mean that 
the state did not take measures to guarantee its perpetuation. German 
forces actively imposed the language in occupied Holland and Den- 
mark, for example. 35 Some American Germany-watchers exhorted 
their own specialists to learn foreign languages so they could assimi- 
late the advances of foreign engineers and scientists the same way the 
polyglot Germans were incorporating English, French, Italian, and 
Spanish sources by their simple ability to read foreign publications. 36 
More discriminating and careful observers like Carl Ramsauer, head of 
the German Physical Society, on the other hand, foretold a different 
future. He wrote a memorandum to Rust in the late 1930s arguing that 
the growth in American physics publications was eclipsing German- 
language ones. 37 Rust could bring Stark to heel, but this was a develop- 
ment he was powerless to act against. 

Losing One’s Tongue 

The propaganda of Aryan Physics calmly assumed that the language of 
science would remain German, at the very least within Germany. Yet as 
we have seen, a sizable cohort of once German scientists could no longer 
call Germany their home. In emigration, these scientists faced what be- 
came an all-too-common experience of dislocation, of starting a new 
life. In almost every case that meant learning a new language. For most 
of the emigres, the need to adapt to a new ambient language — often, 
but not always, English, which they usually had some familiarity with 
due to their scientific research — was simply a fact of life, and they ad- 
justed to it without comment. A tiny minority, an atypical subset that 
had the double distinction of being too old to comfortably adapt and 

' “Mail bemerkt da aus den letzten zehn Jahren in der Literatur meiner Wissenschaft 
etwa das Folgende: England gibt sich den Anschein alleiniger Fiihrung; auswarts 
erzielte Fortschritte werden reichlich benutzt, offen aber nur, wo sie keine wesent- 
liche Rolle spielen, andernfalls werden sie mit Hilfe einer gewissen Umgehung 
annektiert; der Ursprung findet sich dann irgendwo an einer versteckten Stelle tief 
im Innern der Publikation oder nur in irgend einer schwer zuganglichen Neben- 
publikation angegeben; manchmal wird auch das Hilfsmittel direkter historischer 
Verdrehung benutzt.” 



also famous enough that their private correspondence has survived to 
be scrutinized by historians, would come to invoke this exile from their 
native language repeatedly. Although these statements were in all like- 
lihood sincerely believed, my point here is less psychological than in- 
strumental, to articulate how and why the dramatized story of “losing 
German” manifested among these extremely elite scientists. 

The implications of the crimes of the Third Reich for the language of 
its victims was not, obviously, an issue only for scientists. After the war, 
some of the most prominent German intellectuals thrust into exile by 
the regime would return to the topic of alienation from the language, 
turning it into a sentimental metaphor to describe the rupture in Ger- 
man history that suggested a potential remedy. In one of her most mov- 
ing interviews (with the journalist Gunter Gaus in October 1964, after 
the publication of her widely read English-language Eichmann in Jeru- 
salem), Hannah Arendt confronted directly the possibility of losing 
one’s native language. “[T Jhere is no substitute for the mother tongue,” 
she responded to one question. “One can forget one’s mother tongue. 
That’s true. I have seen it. These people [other emigres] speak the for- 
eign language better than I do. I always still speak with a very strong ac- 
cent, and I often don’t speak idiomatically. They can all do so. But it will 
be a language in which the cliches of others play, because precisely the 
productivity that one has in one’s own language will be cut oft as this 
language is forgotten.”* 38 So, what remains after the crimes of German- 
speaking minions ? 

The language remains. [. . .] I have always consciously refused to lose 
the mother tongue. I have always held a certain distance both from 
French, which I once spoke very well, as well as from English, which 
I write in today. [. . .] I write in English, but I have never lost the dis- 
tance. There is an outrageous difference between the mother tongue 
and another language. For myself I can say it frightfully simply: In 
German I know a rather large portion of German poems by heart. 
They are always moving to and fro somewhere in the back of my 

*“[E]s gibt keinen Ersatz fur die Muttersprache. Man kann die Muttersprache ver- 
gessen. Das ist wahr. Ich habe es gesehen. Diese Leute sprechen die fremde Sprache 
besser als ich. Ich spreche immer noch mit einem sehr starken Akzent, und ich 
spreche oft nicht idiomatisch. Das konnen die alle. Aber es wird eine Sprache, in der 
ein Klischee das andere jagt, weil namlich die Produktivitat, die man in der eigenen 
Sprache hat, abgeschnitten wurde, als man diese Sprache vergafi.” 



head — in the back of my mind ; that is naturally not something one 
will achieve again. I allow myself things in German which I would 
not allow myself in English .* 39 

Like Arendt, Frankfurt-School philosopher Theodor Adorno de- 
fended his return to Germany after the war with a simple statement: 
“Also something objective asserted itself. That is the language .” 1 40 An 
autodidact in English (from a three-year stay at Oxford before the war), 
he claimed it was unsuitable for philosophy. “So one sees, you write in a 
seriously foreign language, whether or not you admit it, under the spell 
to communicate yourself, so to speak, so that others will also under- 
stand you,” he continued, expressing the tension between identity and 
communication we have seen from the beginning of this book. “In one’s 
own language, however, one is allowed also to hope, if one can only 
state the matter so precisely and uncompromisingly as possible, that one 
would be understandable through such intransigent effort .”* 41 Both 
Adorno and Arendt used the trope of lost — and recovered — German 
to signal a vital link to the pre-Nazi past, a poetic and philosophical cul- 
ture worth salvaging. 

Most of the emigre scientists whose correspondence I have tracked 
were less willing to forgive the language than Arendt and Adorno, even 
while they expressed themselves in it. Julius Schaxel, a prominent anti- 
Nazi biologist, felt it “repugnant for a German with a healthy national 
feeling to hear the bad German of Hitler, Rosenberg, Franz etc .” 15 ' 42 So 

*“Geblieben ist die Sprache.[. . .] Ich habe immer bewufit abgelehnt, die Mutter- 
sprache zu verlieren. Ich habe immer eine gewisse Distanz behalten sowohl zum Fran- 
zosischen, das ich damals sehr gut sprach, als auch zum Englischen, das ich ja heute 
schreibe.[. . .] Ich schreibe in Englisch, aber ich habe die Distanz nie verloren. Es ist 
ein ungeheuerer Unterschied zwischen Muttersprache und einer andern Sprache. Bei 
mir kann ich das furchtbar einfach sagen: Im Deutschen kenne ich einen ziemlich 
grofien Teil deutscher Gedichte auswendig. Die bewegen sich da immer irgendwie im 
Hinterkopf — in the back of my mind — ; das ist natiirlich nie wieder zu erreichen. Im 
Deutschen erlaube ich mir Dinge, die ich mir im Englischen nicht erlauben wurde.” 
^“Auch ein Objektives machte sich geltend. Das ist die Sprache.” 

^“Schreibt man in einer ernsthaft fremden Sprache, so gerat man, eingestanden oder 
nicht, unter den Bann, sich mitzuteilen, so es zu sagen, dafi die anderen es auch ver- 
stehen. In der eigenen Sprache jedoch darf man, wenn man nur die Sache so genau 
und kompromiBlos sagt wie moglich, auch darauf hoffen, durch solche unnach- 
giebige Anstrengung verstandlich zu werden.” 

^“Es ist fiir einen Deutschen mit gesundem Nationalgefuhl widerwartig, das schlechte 
Deutsch der Hitler , Rosenberg, Franz usw. zu vernehmen.” 



don’t use that particular register of discourse; but what if, in order to 
survive, you had to use English as the language for expressing your intel- 
lectual labor? A job abroad was not simply an office and a paycheck, 
but also an obligation: one had to live and buy groceries while bend- 
ing one’s tongue to express foreign words, and one had to teach the 
science one had always contemplated in German in a new idiom. This 
was often difficult. While the emigres usually understood some English, 
yet there were some who faced similar dilemmas as mathematician Issai 
Schur, who turned down a job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 
because he did not feel that he could lecture in English. 43 Sometimes, 
accommodations were made: psychologists, for example, often either 
were allowed to postpone their first bouts of lecturing or were allowed 
to teach in German, precisely because psychology did not yet have the 
international vocabulary common in the physical sciences. 44 Some 
scholars were fortunate enough to end up at the Institute for Advanced 
Study in Princeton, New Jersey, a research institution with no teaching; 
it functioned almost entirely in German during the war years. 45 

Publication was another matter. By 1940, essentially all of Germano- 
phone Europe (except Switzerland) was under Nazi control, which 
meant that most German-language outlets for scientific work were com- 
promised by their association with the regime. Nonetheless, some Jew- 
ish exiles in the United States continued to submit to Reich journals. 
At Purdue University, Cornelius Lanczos, a one-time assistant of Albert 
Einstein from Berlin who practiced a form of mathematical physics alien 
to the more pragmatic style of most American journals, found himself 
stymied by journal editors in the United States. Faced with rejection 
after rejection, he decided to submit papers to the Zeitschrift furPhysik 
in Germany. Einstein was outraged. He “can however not understand 
that you as a Jew still publish in Germany. This is after all a kind of trea- 
son. The German intellectuals have as a whole behaved disgracefully 
concerning all the abominable injustices and have richly deserved to be 
boycotted. It is already sad enough when non-Jews abroad do not do 
it.”* 46 Lanczos, for his part, refused to blame all Germans for the actions 
of the state: “Since I consider the Zeitschrift fur Physik to be thus entirely 

*“kann aber nicht begreifen, dass Sie als Jude noch in Deutschland publizieren. Dies 
ist doch eine Art Verrat. Die deutschen Intellektuellen haben sich im Ganzen bei all 
den scheusslichen Ungerechtigkeiten schmachvoll benommen und haben es reich- 
lich verdient, boykottiert zu werden. Wenn es die Nichtjuden des Auslands nicht tun, 
ist es schon traurig genug.” 



an organ of German physicists and not Germany’s journal, I felt no ob- 
stacles to placing my work there [. . He added that he felt himself 
discriminated against in the United States. Partly, he alleged, that was 
because he was not as well known as he had been in Germany, but the 
rejection letters also targeted his kind of science. Editors could not even 
hide behind the convenience of rejecting his poor English: “Thereby 
the consequent difficulties do not at all consist in the English formula- 
tion, because I have taken precautions against the well known excuse of 
‘bad language,’ since I subject the text to a thorough revision with good 
friends .” 147 Behind this exchange we can infer a widespread practice of 
disciplining emigre Germans into particular norms of scientific deco- 
rum through the editorial policing of grammar and syntax. 

Although Einstein dropped the subject in future correspondence 
with Lanczos, it is unlikely that these protestations appeased him. Ein- 
stein’s acquaintance with languages other than German was shaky. He 
had learned French for his final examinations at the ETH in Zurich, and 
his parents’ removal to Milan in his high school years had given him at 
least some familiarity with Italian (although he considered his capaci- 
ties atrocious). 48 His lifelong correspondence with Michele Besso, his 
close friend from university days, was entirely in German on Einstein’s 
part, but Besso at times wrote in French or Italian, without apparent 
difficulties for the recipient. In 1913 — rather late considering that his 
international reputation had begun to rise from his 1905 publications 
on special relativity, the photoelectric effect, and Brownian motion — 
Einstein confided to Besso that “I am learning English (at Wohlwend’s), 
slowly but thoroughly.” + 49 It proved quite useful after his emigration 
to the United States in 1932 and his residence at Princeton, but he was 
never quite comfortable with it: “I cannot however write English due to 
its underhanded orthography. If I read, I hear it before me and do not 
remember how the form of the word appears.” § 50 

Einstein was renowned for his attachment to the German language, 

*“Da ich die ‘Zeits. f. Phys.’ durchaus also ein Organ der deutschen Physiker und 
nicht als eine Zeitschrift Deutschlands betrachte, empfand ich keinen Hinderungs- 
grund, meine Arbeit dort zu placierenf. . 

+ “Dabei sind mir die konsequenten Schwierigkeiten durchaus nicht aus der en- 
glischen Formulierung entstanden, denn ich habe der bekannten Ausrede mit der 
‘schlechten Sprache’ immer dadurch vorgebeugt, dass ich den Text mit guten Freun- 
den einer eingehenden Revision unterzog.” 

*“Ich lerne Englisch (bei Wohlwend), langsam aber grundlich.” 

^“Englisch aber kann ich nicht schreiben von wegen der hinterhaltigen Orthogra- 

20 6 


and he deployed it with a grace and poetic feeling lacking in his charm- 
ingly ungrammatical English. Yet he apparently felt bound to the latter 
language for his publications and correspondence in latter years, reserv- 
ing German for speaking to fellow emigres or Americans. He spurned 
all attempts to tie him back to the German academic community from 
the moment he learned of the Holocaust, writing with great volubility 
to Otto Hahn, the co-discoverer of uranium fission, in 1948: 

The crimes of the Germans are really the most disgusting that the 
history of the so-called civilized nations has to display. The attitude 
of the German intellectuals — considered as a class — was not better 
than that of the rabble. Remorse and an honest will, the least that 
could be done in order to redeem things that might be redeemed 
after the enormous murder, have not shown themselves even once. 
Under these circumstances I feel an irresistible aversion against 
being associated with any single affair that embodies a piece of Ger- 
man public life, simply out of a need to keep clean.* 51 

Such views generated tension even with his closest friends, such as 
Max Born, one of the many evicted from the University of Gottingen 
because of the Civil Service Law. (Born eventually found refuge at the 
University of Edinburgh in Scotland.) He was raised in Breslau (now 
Wroclaw, in today’s Poland) with a classical gymnasium education, in- 
cluding Greek and Latin. (He was particularly fond of Greek. 52 ) One 
of the architects of quantum mechanics, he developed an extraordi- 
narily wide range of international contacts, producing what was quite 
possibly the first textbook on quantum mechanics from a series of lec- 
tures he delivered at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in English. (He 
published a German version almost immediately.) 53 When he suddenly 
found himself banished from his own institution, he of course consid- 

phie. Wenn ich lese, hore ich es vor mir und erinnere mich nicht, wie das Wortbild 

*“Die Verbrechen der Deutschen sind wirklich das Abscheulichste, was die Ge- 
schichte der sogenannten zivilisierten Nationen aufzuweisen hat. Die Haltung der 
deutschen Intellektuellen — als Klasse betrachtet — war nicht besser als die des Po- 
bels. Nicht einmal Reue und ein ehrlicher Wille zeigt sich, das Wenige wieder gut zu 
machen, was nach dem riesenhaften Morden noch gut zu machen ware. Unter diesen 
Umstanden fuhle ich eine unwiderstehliche Aversion dagegen, an irgend einer Sache 
beteiligt zu sein, die ein Stuck des deutschen offentlichen Lebens verkorpert, einfach 
aus Reinlichkeitsbedurfnis.” 



ered emigration. At first, his options were grim. As he wrote to Einstein 
in June 1933, he despaired that his best ofter might be one from Bel- 
grade. “The scientific wasteland that probably still reigns there scares 
me, as well as the language. I am extremely ungifted in languages, and it 
seems to me almost impossible to learn a Slavic one. But if nothing else 
comes along, then I will undertake it.”* He would prefer, he wrote, “to 
naturalize my children in a Western land, best would be England.[. . .] I 
also studied in England 2.6 years ago, know the language and have many 
friends.” 1 54 Then Cambridge, England, came through, and he gladly left 
“since I knew the country and the language.” 55 

Throughout these difficult years, he continued his correspondence 
with Einstein, even at one point — just before the Battle of Britain — 
penning a letter in English. (Einstein responded in German.) Com- 
menting on this document later, Born observed: “This is the first let- 
ter in English, which at that time was barely more familiar, but after 
the outbreak of war it was more appropriate to my voice than German 
was.” 4 56 After the war, just before he was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize 
in Physics, Born suddenly found himself facing financial hardship and 
the need to retire. He opted to resettle back in Germany. “Life in Ger- 
many is again truly pleasant,” he wrote Einstein in 1953, “the people 
are fundamentally shaken to rights — in any event there are many fine, 
good people. We have no choice, because there I have a pension, here 
I don’t.” 5 5 ^ The sage of Princeton would have none of it, lambasting 
the stinginess of British bean-counters and Born’s blitheness about re- 
turning to “the land of the mass murderers of our fellow tribesmen.”^ 58 
While for Einstein, adherence to or rejection of German was a matter of 
moral principle — difficult but obligatory — for Born the question was 

*“Mich schreckt die wissenschaftliche Ode, die da vermutlich noch herrscht, und 
die Sprache. Fur Sprachen bin ich auBerst unbegabt, und eine slawische zu lernen, 
scheint mir fast unmoglich. Aber wenn nichts anderes kommt, so wiirde ichs unter- 

*“Ich mochte meine Kinder in einem westlichen Lande einburgern, am liebsten in 
England. [. . .] In England habe ich auch vor 26 Jahren studiert, kenne die Sprache 
und habe viele Freunde.” 

*“Dies ist der erste Brief in englischer Sprache, die mir damals kaum gelaufiger, aber 
nach Kriegsausbruch meiner Stimmung gemafier war als die deutsche.” 

^“Das Leben in Deutschland ist wieder recht angenehm, die Leute sind griindlich 
zurechtgeschuttelt — jedenfalls gibt es viele feine, gute Menschen. Wir haben keine 
Wahl, weil ich dort eine Pension habe, hier nicht.” 

^“das Land der Massenmorder unserer Stammesgenossen.” 



one of expediency. Both scientists were torn by a larger conflict between 
pragmatism and rigor, but linguistic choice was one of the major tropes 
through which they debated it. 

One of the most interesting cases is that of Lise Meitner — an 
Austrian-born Jew (although baptized as an adult) who worked with 
Otto Hahn on the problems of the uranium nucleus until the moment, 
after th t Anschluss absorbing Austria into the Third Reich in 1938, when 
she was forced to escape the country. Infamously, the Swedish Academy 
awarded the first postwar Nobel Prize in Chemistry to her collaborator 
Otto Hahn alone, spurning not only her but his assistant Fritz Strass- 
mann. 59 Both she and Hahn were linguistically dextrous — she had 
taught French at a girls’ school in her youth, and Hahn had spent stu- 
dent years in London — but he was allowed to stay in his homeland; she 
was sent into exile. 60 

Meitner ended up in Sweden, without any ability to speak the lan- 
guage and grudgingly hosted at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sci- 
ences in Stockholm at the laboratory of Manne Siegbahn, who disliked 
the refugee. 61 With little alternative, she applied herself to studying 
Swedish, and soon spent long nights reading Swedish literature (but 
preferring to indulge her passion for ancient Greek classics — also in 
the original). 62 Max von Laue, the most outspoken anti-Nazi physicist 
remaining in Germany and one of the few Meitner maintained a cor- 
respondence with, was amazed at her facility. “As far as concerns my 
knowledge of languages, I fear that you overestimate it,” she wrote von 
Laue in 1940. “My general incompetence in life makes itself felt also in 
my capacity for languages. I learn to read each language very easily and 
to speak it only with great difficulty. On the other hand you do your- 
self an injustice with respect to English. I happen to remember that you 
read the book Gone with the Wind in English and with enthusiasm. I 
have retained that memory because for me that book also made a very 
strong impression at that time, although in places it seems almost like 
a pulp novel.”* 63 

*“Was meine Sprachkenntnisse anbetrifft, so furchte ich, Sie uberschatzen sie. Meine 
allgemeine Lebensuntiichtigkeit macht sich auch in meiner Sprachbegabung gel- 
tend. Ich lerne jede Sprache sehr leicht lesen und sehr schwer sprechen. Ubrigens 
tun Sie sich selbst Unrecht mit dem Englischen. Ich erinnere mich zufallig, dafi Sie 
das Buch ‘Gone with the wind’ englisch gelesen haben und mit Begeisterung gele- 
sen haben. Ich habe das in Erinnerung behalten, weil mir dieses Buch seinerzeit 
auch einen sehr starken Eindruck gemacht hat, obwohl es stellenweise fast wie ein 
Colportageroman wirkt.” 



Margaret Mitchell notwithstanding, von Laue considered himself 
handicapped with foreign languages, despite schoolboy education in 
Latin, Greek, French, and German. The problem, quite understandably, 
was oral: “And if I now must speak at all in a foreign language, it sets 
me immediately into torment and never allows me to come to a fluent 
and correctly pronounced presentation .”* 64 The issue was particularly 
severe in English, he recalled in an autobiographical memoir: “There 
was then no instruction [in English] in German gymnasia; I have later 
felt this to be the most terrible lack in my education. I learned English 
after my school years from scientific journals and books, that, already 
for a long time, had presented themselves as so indispensable; I spent 
months in America and was instructed in English there.” f 65 Meitner 
likewise felt ill at ease with English, but yet “mediate [d] the correspon- 
dence for an array of friends and colleagues who have relatives in the 
belligerent countries, and this means a doubled writing and rewriting, 
and on top of that partially in the English language, which does not 

% » f 66 

to me. 

After the war, Meitner’s future employment and residence remained 
uncertain. Unlike Max Born, she felt she could not return to Germany. 
(She refused a chair at the University of Mainz .) 67 While Einstein ex- 
coriated those Germans who stayed, regardless of their own felt degree 
of complicity with the regime, Meitner had worked and communicated 
with certain individuals — like von Laue and Hahn — for so long during 
the darkest years that she believed she understood some of the pressure 
they were under. At the same time, she also felt they bore responsibility, 
and was unstinting in her praise for Max Planck, who had spoken with 
her honestly about the terrible things Germans were doing; his admis- 
sion of personal responsibility was a balm to her . 68 

*“Und wenn ich nun gar in einer fremden Sprache reden muBte, so wurde mir dies 
geradezu zur Qual und erlaubte mir nie, bis zu einem fliefienden und ausspracher- 
ichtigen Vortrag zu kommen.” 

*“Es gab damals keinen Unterricht darin auf den deutschen Gymnasien; das habe ich 
spater als den bosesten Mangel meiner Bildung empfunden. Ich habe Englisch nach 
der Schulzeit aus wissenschaftlichen Zeitschriften und Buchern gelernt, die sich, je 
langer, als umso unentbehrlicher herausstellten; ich habe Monate in Amerika zuge- 
bracht und war dort auf das Englische angewiesen.” 

*“Ich vermittle fiir eine Reihe von Freunden und Kollegen, die Verwandte im kriegs- 
fiihrenden Ausland haben, die Korrespondenz und das bedeutet ja ein doppeltes 
Hin- und Herschreiben dazu teilweise in englischer Sprache, was mir nicht leicht 



When, after the war, Hahn and von Laue accused the Allies of tor- 
menting Germans, she lost her composure and excoriated both of them 
for failing to recognize the enormity of the atrocities committed by 
Hitler and his minions. 69 After von Laue continued to resist seeing how 
the Allies and the victims of Nazism could feel justified in imposing cer- 
tain hardships during the postwar occupation, Meitner chose to deploy 
the framework of losing one’s language to make it vivid for him: 

You can I suspect not entirely comprehend how much one must 
have his natural and uninhibited behavior under control, when one 
as a 6o-year-old person comes to a foreign land whose language one 
has until then never spoken, and if one is on top of that dependent 
on the country’s hospitality. One never enjoys equal rights and is 
always internally alone. One always speaks a foreign language — I 
don’t mean the external formulation of language, I mean mentally. 
One is without a homeland. I wish that you never experience this, 
and not even that you understand it.* 70 

By using precisely this kind of sentimental imagery, Meitner attempted 
to elicit a sentimental reaction. If von Laue couldn’t understand Meit- 
ner’s anger and frustration through abstract analysis, the way to make 
it concrete for him was to describe exile as linguistic alienation. While 
Born and Lanczos (and Arendt and Adorno) used their comfort with 
the German language as a proxy for forgiveness and continuity, Meit- 
ner, like Einstein, invoked her linguistic position as a fitting analogy to 
the trauma the Nazis brought into her world. 

The Boycott That Never Was 

During and after the war, old outrage at Germans, some of it left over 
from the Great War, resurfaced. If the Germans had been punished 
with a boycott after the First World War, when their crimes were in- 

*“Sie konnen vermutlich nicht ganz realisieren, wie viel man von seiner natiirlichen 
und unbefangenen Art unter Kontrolle haben mul 3 , wenn man als Mensch von 60 
Jahren in ein fremdes Land kommt, dessen Sprache man bis dahin niemals gespro- 
chen hat, und wenn man dazu noch auf die Gastfreundschaft des Landes angewiesen 
ist. Man ist niemals gleichberechtigt und ist immer innerlich einsam. Man spricht 
immer eine fremde Sprache, ich meine nicht die aufSere Sprachformulierung, ich 
meine das Gedankliche. Man ist heimatlos. Ich wiinsche Ihnen nicht, es zu erleben, 
und nicht einmal, es zu verstehen.” 



comparably milder than Hitler’s, should not the same reaction follow 
the Holocaust ? Harvard physicist Percy Bridgman had opened the door 
to this kind of thinking already in 1939, when he advocated a voluntary 
preventative boycott — more of a self-imposed gag order — against Axis 
scientists, especially the Germans: “I have decided from now on not 
to show my apparatus or discuss my experiments with the citizens of 
any totalitarian state. [. . .] These states have thus annulled the grounds 
which formerly justified and made a pleasure of the free sharing of sci- 
entific knowledge between individuals of different countries.” 71 Such 
measures could be understood as part of the war effort; now that the 
war was won, what kind of punishment should be exacted on German 
scientists ? 

Theodore von Karman, the aerospace engineer and mathematician of 
Hungarian origin, fumed to Warren Weaver — director of the National 
Sciences Division of the Rockefeller Foundation, whom we will meet 
again in the following chapter — that a boycott was most decisively nec- 
essary. “He thinks that at least 80 per cent of all the present German 
faculties and German students are completely unrepentant and arro- 
gant,” Weaver recorded in his diary. “He says that if we do one thing for 
them, we will simply justify their own opinion of us as fools. When I 
ask him what he thinks we ought to do with them, he shrugs his shoul- 
ders and says: ‘Just leave them alone for about fifty years.’” 72 Von Kar- 
man’s sentiments found support among many scientists. 73 No German 
scientists attended the first major conferences after the war, but this was 
more the result of travel restrictions imposed by the Allies rather than 
an explicit boycott. Max von Laue, due to his anti-Nazi reputation, was 
allowed to travel already by July 1946. 71 

So much of World War II seemed to repeat the mistakes of World 
War I, that Niko Tinbergen, the Dutch-born ethologist, wished not 
to replicate the botched postwar. Considering his long-standing col- 
laboration with Austrian animal-behavior specialist Konrad Lorenz — 
whose connections with the Nazi Party were substantially closer than 
a staunch Resistance fighter like Tinbergen could easily stomach — 
Tinbergen felt “it is impossible for me to resume contact with him or 
his fellow-countrymen, I mean it is psychologically impossible. The 
wounds of our soul must heal, and that will take time.[. . .] In order 
to avoid the mistakes from i9i8-’26, I did not want, as then, to begin 
cooperation between allied scientists and leaving the Germans out al- 
together.” 75 

Tinbergen reflected a growing consensus, endorsed even by hard- 



liners like Dutch-born physicist Samuel Goudsmit, who had lost his 
parents in concentration camps and spearheaded the American inves- 
tigation into the Nazi uranium project. “It would be understandable if 
many among us were reluctant to converse with our German colleagues 
again as if nothing had happened,” he observed after the war, but such 
individual resentment must be overcome to avoid poisoning German 
rehabilitation. “We must again communicate with them as in the days 
before Hitler. The exchange of scientific literature, now practically at a 
standstill due to our indifference, should be actively promoted.” 76 Only 
a minority of emigres considered a boycott a good idea, and Meitner, 
for one, was relieved that it was unlikely to come to pass. 77 

Yet the absence of a boycott was not enough to restore the state of 
German science to its interwar heights, let alone its upward trajectory 
of the first decade of the twentieth century. The damage to German as 
a scientific language was locked into the governance statutes of interna- 
tional organizations and the educational infrastructure of the United 
States, whose scientific community — and language — continued to 
blossom through the Second World War. Educational connections be- 
tween the former scientific superpower and the newly emergent ones 
also needed help; as one 1978 analysis observed: “The break between 
the United States intellectual community and Germany in the thirties 
was radical and complete. With few exceptions the postwar effort to re- 
store the broken ties started from point zero.” 78 There was also a new 
scientific power on the horizon in the East, speaking a different lan- 
guage and writing with a different alphabet. The Soviet Union posed 
multiple new challenges to American science, and exacting vengeance 
on German physicists and chemists did not rank high on the list of pri- 

As Germany began to rebuild, and be rebuilt, after the war, Hannah 
Arendt allowed herself to feel a bit of optimism about her country, and 
her language. “And besides that the experience that German is spoken 
on the streets,” she said to Gunther Gaus. “That pleased me indescrib- 
ably.”* 79 This, at least, was something. 

*“Und aufterdem das Erlebnis, dafi auf der StraEe Deutsch gesprochen wurde. Das 
hat mich unbeschreiblich gefreut.” 


The Dostoevsky Machine 

HtO >Ke, CKa3aAH MbI, nopa HHOCTpaHHbIM yHCHblM H3yHHTb pyCCKHH 


CoceA noKOCHAC^ HeAOBepnHBO, — a& Bcepbe3 ah sto CKa3aHO? 
Bcepbe3 — h oneHb Bcepbe3! Be3 pyccxoro ii3MKa y^ce ceHnac HeAb3ii 

6bITb nOAAHHHO o6pa30BaHHbIM HCAOBCKOM. ... * 



Everyone called it an experiment, but it was more of a demonstration. 
On 7 January 1954, at the world headquarters of the International Busi- 
ness Machines Corporation (universally known as IBM) at 57th Street 
and Madison Avenue in midtown Manhattan, members of the press 
filed into a room dominated by the 701, IBM’s first commercially avail- 
able scientific computer. The 701 was an attraction in its own right: cost- 
ing roughly $500,000 (over $4.4 million in 2014 dollars), it consisted 
of eleven separate units and took up as much area as a tennis court. (See 
Figure 8.1.) Computers were scarce commodities: there were roughly 
seventy computers in the United States in early 1954. The 701 was espe- 
cially rare, having been shipped to its first customer — Los Alamos 
National Laboratory, America’s nuclear weapons design facility — just 
a year earlier. (The Atomic Energy Commission, which oversaw the 
laboratory, controlled over 25% of the large computers in the country.) 2 
They were about to witness this wonder machine perform a feat scarcely 
imaginable a decade earlier. 

Tlie 701 was going to translate Russian into English. Leon Dostert, 
the director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Languages and 

*‘“A11 right,’ we said, ‘it is time for foreign scientists to study the Russian language.’ 
My neighbor looked askance at me incredulously: ‘Is that said seriously?’ 
‘Seriously — and very seriously indeed! Without the Russian language already 
now it is impossible to be a genuinely educated person. . . .’” 



Research in Language 
Translation by Machine 



Srnlrnm in llir Ku—iun Icmguttgr 
urr |>iin<Ti«'«l into •lamlaril HIM 
rani* and nml. 

In ■ fm mtwiiI* ill** Kn«li*h 
Ininolalinn of I ha* Rii~i.ui M-nli'nrr 
i» jirinli il. 

figure 8.1. Publicity still from the 7 January 1954 Georgetown-IBM experiment, 
depicting the IBM 701. All of the objects in the picture (except the chair) are part of 
the computer. Courtesy of Georgetown University Archives. 

Linguistics, and Cuthbert Hurd, the director of IBM’s Applied Sci- 
ence Division, presided over the public unveiling of over a year’s worth 
of work — mostly a collaboration between Georgetown linguist Paul 
Garvin and IBM mathematician Peter Sheridan — to apply a vocabu- 
lary of 250 Russian words and six rules of “operational syntax” to render 
over sixty Russian sentences into readable, indeed entirely grammati- 
cal English, at a rate of one every six to seven seconds. The IBM press 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


release bubbled over with enthusiasm: “A girl who didn’t understand 
a word of the language of the Soviets punched out the Russian mes- 
sages on IBM cards. The ‘brain’ dashed oft its English translations on 
an automatic printer at the breakneck speed of two and a half lines per 
second .” 3 

Yet the real star of the day was Dostert. A dapper man sporting his 
customary well-trimmed mustache, he knew how to play to the crowd. 
He called the experiment a “Kitty Hawk” of machine translation (MT), 
meaning there was substantial work remaining on both the linguistic 
and computing sides of the problem before MT became widely appli- 
cable and functionally error-free. Yet he exuded optimism. “Those in 
charge of this experiment now consider it to be definitely established 
that meaning conversion through electronic language translation is fea- 
sible,” he said, and predicted that “five, perhaps three years hence, inter- 
lingual meaning conversion by electronic process in important func- 
tional areas of several languages may well be an accomplished fact .” 4 

Russian was the obvious place to begin, as Thomas Watson, Jr., chair- 
man of IBM, noted: “We chose Russian because we believe that today 
it is of very great importance to be able to communicate with the Rus- 
sians in the shortest possible time with the hope that through increased 
understanding we will be able to make faster progress toward the goal 
of world peace .” 5 Also crucial for Dostert, however, was scientific com- 
munication: “The value to research of having current literature in sci- 
entific fields readily and promptly available in various idioms is another 
practical objective .” 6 MT of scientific texts would open the door to 
full automatic translation of not just Russian science into English, but 
any words in any language into any other. The press was appropriately 
amazed, and a series of articles flooded popular and scientific media 
about the “Georgetown-IBM experiment” and the future of MT . 7 

There was very little “experimental” about what happened on that 
January day. In early October 1953, progress was going so well on the 
highly constrained language program that Dostert anticipated a pub- 
lic demonstration to be possible in “early November.” 8 Complications 
arose, however, and the public trial run was pushed back. In the archives 
of Georgetown University, you can find a dot-matrix printout of trans- 
literated Russian sentences accompanied by English translations — 
similar but not identical to the sentences which appeared at the pub- 
lic trial in January 1954, signed by Dostert and addressed to Father 
Edward B. Bunn, S.J., the president of Georgetown University, with the 
exultant aura of a recently accomplished feat: 

21 6 


On this day [24 November 1953], at 11:45 A.M., in the headquar- 
ters of the International Business Machine Corporation, 57th and 
Madison Ave. in New York City, the first segment of language trans- 
lation by electronic-mechanical process was achieved on this sheet. 
This experiment was the result of research conducted jointly by the 
University’s Institute of Languages and Linguistics and the I.B.M. 
The formula for the testing of the basic principle was prepared by 
the undersigned, who gratefully presents this paper as a memento 
to Father Rector. 9 

By late November, Dostert and Hurd knew the experiment would be a 
success. Dostert arranged for two demonstrations on 7 January; the big 
public shebang was the second. Earlier, about forty government offi- 
cials received a separate briefing, “because many of the gov’t officials 
are security minded and do not wish to be publicly associated with 
the project.” 10 Security minded indeed: representatives from the Cen- 
tral Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), and 
Office of Naval Research (ONR) were among those present. 

The birth of MT represents the convergence of several strands of the 
complicated history of scientific languages in the early years of the Cold 
War. On the one hand, attention to science, especially Soviet science, 
was on the rise. W ithout question the most significant event for Ameri- 
can perceptions of their geopolitical rival’s science and technology was 
the Soviet launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Yet 
anxiety about Soviet achievements stretched back at least to the sur- 
prisingly early detonation of the first Soviet nuclear device in 1949. The 
Cold War was shaping up to be, at least in part, a scientific race, and 
maintaining good intelligence about the other side was essential. The 
Soviet Union’s science infrastructure became the largest in the world in 
the 1950s, and in principle one could simply follow the vast published 
literature and obtain an adequate lay of the land. There was, however, 
a practical obstacle: Russian. Thus, almost as soon as the guns stopped 
firing in 1945, the American science establishment came to believe itself 
deep in the throes of a crisis of scientific language. 

Obviously, government power brokers were not especially interested 
in Soviet findings on the chlorination of benzene; instead, political 
pressure in the United States was focused on reading Soviet documents 
for intelligence purposes. The goal was to translate Russian rapidly, 
full stop. Then what was special about science ? Over the course of the 
first postwar decade, we see a sharp redefinition of scientific language 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


as a peculiar subspecies of language — one that was lexically, semanti- 
cally, and syntactically simpler, and thus more tractable to the limited 
computer power available. MT was spawned by the interaction of two 
forces: scientists who wanted to read Soviet publications, and backers 
who became convinced that scientific language was the key to unlock- 
ing the secrets of Russian grammar. To see how all this came about, we 
have to delve into the mood of the late 1940s concerning Russian. That 
is, we have to panic. 

The Russians Are Writing ! 

The numbers were bad, and getting worse. According to one estimate 
in 1948, more than 33% of all technical data published in a foreign lan- 
guage now appeared in Russian; even German had reached only 40% 
of such data at its peak . 11 The most comprehensive source of informa- 
tion on foreign publications was the Chemical Abstracts , a publica- 
tion of the American Chemical Society that was necessarily limited to 
that science (broadly construed), but had a lengthier series of figures. 
In 1913, the number of Russian-language publications abstracted was 
2.5% of the total; in 1940, that number had risen to 14.1%, and in some 
subfields like mineralogic chemistry was a whopping 17.3% of the pub- 
lished papers. Much of this expansion came at German’s expense: over 
the same period, the once-regnant language of chemistry had imploded 
from 34.4% to 13.4%. By 1958, among the fifty different languages from 
which Chemical Abstracts drew their information, Russian (17%) trailed 
English (50.5%), but was already greater than German (10%) and French 
(6%) combined. In 1970, Russian had reached 23%, and the Soviet 
Union was producing as many publications in chemistry as the United 
States . 12 Chemistry was not an extreme case, either; the American Geo- 
logical Institute calculated in the early 1960s that the Soviets were pro- 
ducing 29% of the world’s geological literature, and the United States 
23%. 13 These numbers must be read alongside the growing baseline: the 
amount of chemical activity in the world from 1909 to 1939, for ex- 
ample, had quadrupled, so Russian’s percentages here were vaster slices 
of an ever expanding pie, a growing mountain of Cyrillic science. As the 
editor of Chemical Abstracts laconically put it in 1944: “The necessity in 
chemistry of the reading of Russian will increase .” 14 

This need not have generated a crisis. After all, Americans had man- 
aged to keep track of German-language literature during its dominance. 
They simply, as a matter of course, learned German. But suddenly, as 



World War II receded into the past, American scientists looked around 
and found their hard-won knowledge of Teutonic word order and com- 
pound nouns less and less important. In a 1958 survey, 49% of American 
scientific and technical personnel claimed they could read at least one 
foreign language, yet only 1.2% could handle Russian. (The situation 
was even worse for Japanese, which had as many publications in this 
period as French and yet only 0.2% of the sample claimed competence 
in it .) 15 That in itself was an improvement. In 1953, the National Sci- 
ence Foundation had sponsored a sampling of 400,000 scientists and 
engineers, and found roughly 400 who could read Russian without dif- 
ficulty — a tenth of a percent . 16 Some scientists dismissed the Cassan- 
dras, declaring that Soviet science was biased and overly skewed toward 
applications and therefore could be safely ignored, but such arguments 
sounded less and less frequently. 1 ' The architects of science policy were 
very worried. From these quite low numbers, by 1962 some 5.6% of 
American scientists claimed to read Russian. That seems like progress, 
but it must be compared with the backdrop of 50% who knew German 
and 35% who knew French . 18 For the newborn National Science Foun- 
dation (created in 1950), language was the central problem: “The prin- 
cipal barrier to gaining knowledge of the Russian scientific effort is the 
Russian language. Very few scientists and engineers are able to read sci- 
entific papers in the original Russian .” 19 

What could be done? What might be the solution to an incipient 
(nay, already present!) Babel of insurgent national languages which were 
overwhelming the delicate ecology of English, German, and French — 
but, for these scientists, mostly English? We have seen this question 
before, and a tiny minority of commentators once again proposed the 
same solution: a constructed language. For some, the answer was not 
just any constructed language, but the same language we encountered 
in chapter 4: Esperanto. On 10 December 1954, the United Nations 
Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed 
a resolution encouraging the adoption of Esperanto for international 
communication. Outside of Europe (always Esperanto’s stronghold), 
the Japanese were principal advocates of the language, and the Brazilian 
Government Institute of Geography and Statistics officially accepted 
Esperanto as its auxiliary language even earlier, on 18 July 1939. 20 Espe- 
ranto, however, remained marginal to scientific languages. 

Interlingua was a somewhat different story, representing an American- 
centric Cold War approach to Scientific Babel, although with interwar 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


roots. In 1924, chemist Frederick G. Cottrell, Ambassador David Hen- 
nen Morris, and his wife Alice (nee Vanderbilt Shepard, granddaughter 
of William Henry Vanderbilt) established the International Auxiliary 
Language Association (IALA), dedicated to creating a viable auxiliary. 
Assembling a team of scientists, engineers, journalists, and assorted 
intellectuals, the IALA selected German-American linguist Alexan- 
der Code to construct the eventual solution. 21 Or, rather, extract it. For 
Code, there already was an international language located within sci- 

In interlinguistic terms all this means that even though the “lan- 
guage” of science and technology is not a full-fledged language, 
even though it can supply us only with a vast number of words and 
phrases of international validity in various peculiarly national but 
easily recognizable forms, it does represent a nucleus of a complete 
language. It does represent fragments of the only international lan- 
guage we have. 22 

That is, when the collected scientific texts of the world were perused, 
“the result will be a welcome rapprochement of the several systems and 
projects [of constructed languages] which may thus be more clearly rec- 
ognized as what they really are: variants or dialects of the same inter- 
lingua.” 23 In 1951, they published their system and produced a series of 
primers to educate people in reading the language. 24 

Interlingua faded from view by the mid-1960s, but a decade earlier 
it seemed a potential solution to the cacophony of languages. Explic- 
itly drawn from scientific publications, Interlingua found a natural 
home among their ranks. Thanks in large part to Code’s exhortations 
and Alice Morris’s financing, a few publications undertook printing ab- 
stracts in Interlingua: first the Quarterly Bulletin of the Sea View Hos- 
pital, followed by the Journal of Dental Medicine, the very prestigious 
Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Danish Medical 
Bulletin. In line with this heavily medical theme, the official program of 
the Second World Congress of Cardiology, which took place in Wash- 
ington, DC, in 1954, contained summaries in English and Interlingua, 
the first mass trial of the language. 25 Full periodicals followed, with the 
journal Spectroscopia Molecular appearing in 1952, followed by a news- 
letter Scientia International. As historian of constructed languages 
Arika Okrent observed: “By attaching itself to science, and refraining 



from grand claims, Interlingua spread a little further than it otherwise 
might have.” 26 

Reflecting on this brief efflorescence of interest in constructed lan- 
guages — Spectroscopia Molecular folded in 1980, a decade after Code’s 
death removed the movement’s guiding spirit — exposes in miniature 
this Cold War notion of a “scientific language.” Interlingua was built 
out of the vocabulary that Code pulled from science, and thus like Ido 
seemed related to the international scientific project, but unlike Ido 
was designed to be read, not spoken or written. Specialized abstracters 
would render English, French, Russian, or Malayalam into Interlingua, 
and then those translations would be open to all. This limited inter- 
nationality stopped when you moved from the abstract to the article, 
and it reflected a largely textual scientific community. In the early Cold 
War, with limited personal contact between Soviet and American scien- 
tists, this seemed reasonable, and the attention to abstracts and publi- 
cation reflects a primarily American understanding of the scientific lan- 
guage barrier, which explains the Western orientation of the Interlingua 
publications. In the end, the constructed language could not generate 
enough enthusiasm to appeal to Americans, let alone the Soviets. The 
Soviets faced an even larger language barrier — they had to deal with the 
overwhelming quantities of English publications, setting aside German 
and French — which raises the question of how they coped with what 
the Americans understood as a linguistic catastrophe. 

How the Other Half Read, Especially Science 

To understand how Soviet scientists themselves treated the language 
barrier, it is important to recognize that Russophone space — that is, the 
Soviet Union — was not monoglot. The United States functioned (and 
still functions) as primarily an Anglophone society, even though there 
is sizeable linguistic diversity among immigrants, heritage speakers, and 
Native American populations. By contrast, the Communist superpower 
was a better analog to India: enormous linguistic heterogeneity, with 
a leading cultural language (Russian, Hindi/English) used for bureau- 
cratic unity while tolerating, even encouraging, regional difference. 
Parts of the former Soviet Union, especially the Caucasus, remain some 
of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world. Politically, the 
Soviet leadership exploited its status as a multilingual country — visible 
in the fifteen official languages of the fifteen constituent republics, or 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


in the many regional languages within each of those units — for pro- 
paganda value in the decolonizing world, a source of some concern to 
American commentators. Language was so central that it was “recog- 
nized as the main criterion of nationality in the USSR.” 2 ' There were as 
many different peoples as there were languages, and there were an awful 
lot of languages. 

That was the image, and during the first two decades of the Soviet 
regime it was more or less the reality too. Beginning in 1917, V. I. Lenin’s 
official policy toward “minority languages” granted enormous linguis- 
tic (but of course not political) autonomy to the peoples who spoke 
them. In order to extirpate what the regime saw as baleful religious in- 
fluence, Turkic-speaking peoples (such as the Azeris or Uzbeks) were 
required in August 1929 to discard their Arabic-derived alphabets, but 
instead of switching to Cyrillic — which might be reminiscent of Russi- 
fication policies pursued by the loathed Tsars — alphabets derived from 
Latin were created for them and for dozens of “pre -literate” minority 
peoples. This policy changed in 1938, when learning Russian became 
a compulsory subject in Soviet schools, and in 1939 all of the Latin 
scripts were discarded and every alphabet for the hundreds of Soviet 
languages — with eight exceptions — were transformed into Cyrillic . 28 
Both measures resulted in significant Russification of these languages, 
especially with respect to the stock of nouns, and in no field so much as 
science with its well-developed Russian vocabulary. 

The 1938 reform of language policy greatly benefitted native speakers 
of Russian, and was driven in part by the need for a common language 
in All-Union institutions like the Red Army. Officially, Russian was still 
primus inter pares, to be taught to every child in the country starting in 
the second grade, even though education might still be dominated by 
the local minority language. In some regions, such as Dagestan, seven 
languages were used in schools, but this case was exceptional. As chil- 
dren advanced through the grades, Russian became more entrenched 
and minority languages dropped out; all higher education in Russia and 
the five Central Asian republics took place in Russian . 29 In science, the 
dominance of Russian was essentially total. For example, a dissertation 
had to be written in Russian or the title language of one’s republic; but 
if a scholar took advantage of the latter option, he or she had to have it 
translated into Russian so that a Higher Attestation Board could ap- 
prove it . 30 World War II intensified the increasingly Russocentric char- 
acter of the Soviet Union, and by 1949 it was easy to find statements 



such as: “The Russian language is great, rich, and powerful, it is a tool 
of the most progressive culture in the world .”* 31 

This overwhelming emphasis on Russian vis-a-vis all the other lan- 
guages of the multilingual Union did not imply the neglect of foreign 
languages. On the contrary, Soviet scientists and engineers were com- 
pelled to master at least one foreign language so they could navigate 
through the scientific literature. The development of this policy mir- 
rored the marginalization of minority languages internal to the coun- 
try. In 1932 foreign languages were officially introduced into Soviet 
schools with an emphasis on grammar and not on use, apparently with 
the goal of training translators. By 1948, schools were established in 
major Soviet cities where the language of instruction itself was a lead- 
ing foreign language . 32 A fourteen-year-old in the Soviet school system 
would already have received three years of a foreign language, and with 
very few exceptions (for fields such as physical education or agriculture) 
admission to university was contingent on passing an oral test in En- 
glish, German, or French, with Spanish added in 1955. (There was ex- 
tensive debate in both the Soviet Union and the United States about 
the rigor of these examinations in practice.) True, the number of hours 
of compulsory language study dropped from 270 hours (four hours a 
week for two years) in 1950-1951 to half that by Joseph Stalin’s death in 
1953, but in 1954 the Communist Party boosted language requirements 
back up, specifically citing concern for science. Despite quibbles about 
quality, an American analyst noted that “the fact remains that every stu- 
dent in the Soviet institutions of higher learning studies at least one for- 
eign language .” 33 

For chemists, that language was usually English, although some 
Soviet chemists contended German remained essential for the still 
important prewar literature. 34 Soviets cited disproportionately more 
Russian-language studies (according to a 1966 study, 51.6% of the time) 
compared with its share of the global literature, but this was true for 
everyone: the French tended to cite French works disproportionately, 
the Germans German, and of course the British and Americans English. 
Nonetheless, that meant 48.4% of Soviet citations were to foreign ma- 
terial, and almost half of that was to English-language publications, 
which roughly 80% of Soviet scientists were ostensibly able to read. 35 

*“PyccKHH ii3biK bcahk, 6oraT h Moryn, oh hbarctcr opyAHeM crmoh nepeAOBOH b 
MH pe KyAbTypbl.” 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


Even as early as 1951, a bibliographic survey of the languages of chemis- 
try noted that “the Russian chemist relies on the chemical literature of 
other countries to a greater extent than the American chemist.” 36 A year 
after Sputnik, Jacob Ornstein, a frequent commentator on scientific 
Russian, expressed the common perception starkly: “Everything con- 
sidered, there seems little doubt that the Soviet language effort is the 
most sizable one of any leading modern nation and that the American 
program dwarfs by comparison. If one may speak of a ‘language race,’ all 
signs indicate that the Soviet Union is well in the leading position.” 37 

Raw numbers told only half the story. In the late 1940s, at precisely 
the moment the Cold War set in and Stalinism entered its final phase, 
language became intensely politicized within the Soviet Union in a 
manner that severely diminished Westerners’ access to Russian science 
for the following decade. There were two key episodes in this renewed 
militancy surrounding the Russian language, one of which was quietly 
issued by fiat in 1947, and the other presented as a great public debate 
in 1950. Both had scientific controversies at their roots, and both would 
frame the development of machine translation. 

Consider the latter incident first. Academic disciplines featured as 
zones of heavy contestation from the early years of Soviet power, but the 
intensity of conflict waxed and waned in response to internal dynamics 
within the Kremlin. The postwar moment was one of renewed clashes, 
perhaps the most vigorous of the entire Soviet period, and the two most 
visible fields were biology and linguistics. The biology story is a sad 
one, but it is quickly told. Beginning in the 1930s, a young agronomist 
named Trofim Denisovich Lysenko challenged the fast-consolidating 
scientific consensus that heredity was transmitted by genes that re- 
mained essentially unaffected by an organism’s surrounding environ- 
ment, proffering instead a modification of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s early 
nineteenth-century theory of the inheritance of acquired characteris- 
tics. According to Lysenko’s doctrine of “Michurinism” — named after 
Ivan Michurin, a quirky Russian plant breeder — heredity could be ma- 
nipulated through a series of practices called “vernalization” in order to 
generate desired qualities (such as greater resistance to cold or higher 
yields) that would be passed on to future generations. Lysenko effec- 
tively packaged his attacks on geneticists in the discourse of Stalinist 
ideology. The conflict went into abeyance during the war, but erupted 
with renewed vigor immediately afterward, resulting in an August 1948 
declaration by Lysenko that the Central Committee of the Party — that 



is, Stalin — had approved his theory and condemned the geneticists. Ge- 
netics remained an officially forbidden doctrine in the Soviet Union 
until Lysenko’s fall from power in 1965. 38 

Academics of all stripes took note: the Party had intervened in an 
intellectual dispute and established an orthodoxy around the more 
Marxist-inflected variant. Most scholars tried to keep their heads down; 
others scented opportunity. A vocal and idiosyncratic faction of lin- 
guists felt that the time had come to impose the linguistic theories of 
Nikolai Marr (1865-1934) as decisively as Lysenko’s “creative Soviet 
Darwinism.” Beginning in the 1920s, Marr aggressively promoted his 
“New Theory of Language,” which rejected the dominant historical- 
comparative framework of Western linguistics — in which languages 
were grouped into “families” such as Indo-European or Semitic on the 
basis of inferred common descent from a pro to -language — and instead 
argued that language had developed independently and repeatedly 
across the world, with stages of linguistic development connected with 
socioeconomic conditions. That is, the rise of Indo-European languages 
such as Greek and Latin in the Mediterranean was not the result of mi- 
grations into the region of peoples who spoke languages belonging to 
this family, but rather the transformation of the underlying “Japhetic” 
languages. Marr insisted that peoples of similar classes around the globe 
would speak languages more similar to each other (with respect to cer- 
tain linguistic features) than peoples of the same region from different 
social backgrounds . 39 Marr seemed the perfect complement to Michu- 
rin for an orthodoxy in Soviet linguistics: a native-grown doctrine, 
hostile to Western theories, saturated with Marxist rhetoric. Indeed, 
by April 1950 these linguists seemed poised to take over the field, and 
had already started eradicating conventional linguistic categories. (For 
example, the Sector of Comparative Grammars of Indo-European Lan- 
guages of the Academy of Sciences was renamed “General Linguistics.”) 
Stalin’s intervention was all that remained. 

Tilings did not turn out as expected. On 20 June 1950, Stalin pub- 
lished “On Marxism and Linguistics” in Pravda, arguing against Marr 
that language was not part of the “superstructure” to be influenced by 
socioeconomic relations. The Marrists were routed. There were numer- 
ous reasons why Stalin acted as he did: to keep a faction of academics in 
line, to ameliorate the negative impact Marrist ideas had produced on 
Soviet language teaching, and to improve relations with satellite coun- 
tries that looked to those methods to provide unity among the Slavic 
languages . 40 An important consequence of Stalin’s intervention was 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


a renewed emphasis on the Russian language. At the Sixteenth Party 
Congress in summer 1930, a younger Joseph Stalin had predicted that a 
future universal language “of course, won’t be either the Great Russian 
language or German, but something new.”* 41 It seems his opinions had 

The other major development created less fanfare, but was no less 
consequential. Given how consistently Stalin’s Soviet Union projected 
an aura of autarky, especially toward his death in 1953, it is surprising 
to realize that at the end of the war scientific collaboration with the 
West seemed possible — represented, for example, by the lavish 225th 
anniversary celebration in 1945 of the foundation of the Academy of 
Sciences. 42 Hopes were soon dashed by a controversy over two bio- 
medical researchers, Nina Kliueva and Grigorii Roskin, who had pub- 
lished two papers in American journals concerning a potential cancer 
cure. A manufactured scandal about scientific espionage, dubbed the 
“KR Affair” after the protagonists’ initials, enabled cultural elites such 
as Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s ideological second-in-command, to assert 
Soviet particularism. On 14 July 1947, the Party’s high command issued 
a verdict on publications, inspired by Kliueva and Roskin’s perceived 
transgression (as translated by historian Nikolai Krementsov): 

The Central Committee considers that the publication of Soviet 
scientific journals in foreign languages injures the interests of the 
Soviet state, [and] provides foreign intelligence services with the 
results of Soviet scientific achievements. The Academy of Sci- 
ences’ publication of scientific journals in foreign languages, while 
no other country publishes a journal in Russian, injures the Soviet 
Union’s self-respect and does not correspond to the task of scien- 
tists’ reeducation in the spirit of Soviet patriotism . 43 

This decision had momentous consequences for Soviet scientific pub- 
lications. First, the three “prestige journals” published in foreign lan- 
guages within the Soviet Union were shuttered: the Comptes rendus of 
the Academy of Sciences, in French, and the Acta Physicochimica and 
the Journal of Physics of the USSR, which published in English. 44 (The 
German-language Physikalische Zeitschrift der Sowjetunion perished 
in 1938, a victim of Nazism.) Even worse, it had been customary for 
Russian-language publications to include either abstracts in English or 




German (and sometimes French) or at least a translated table of con- 
tents in those languages. After September 1947, both were eliminated, 
making it all but impossible for non-Russian readers to figure out what 
was in a journal. 45 At the very moment when it had become more im- 
portant than ever for Americans to follow Soviet science, and when 
there was more and more of it to read, the vast trove of it was locked 
behind the bars of the impenetrable Russian tongue. 

Inventing “Scientific Russian” 

It is not, of course, impossible to learn Russian. Millions of children 
routinely do so, and many millions of adults have as well (albeit with 
significantly more effort). The Stalinist transformations of Soviet scien- 
tific communication had renewed the pressure for Americans to learn 
how to read the language, and by the end of World War II the resources 
were in place to allow them to do so. The question was which kind of 
Russian they ought to learn. 

The first Russian classes at an American university date to the last 
five years of the nineteenth century. Harvard College, spurred by the 
pressure of its chief librarian, Archibald Cary Coolidge, hired Leo 
Wiener to teach Russian in 1895, promoted him to assistant professor 
in 1901 and full professor in 1911, and then guided him to retirement in 
1930. Across that career, Wiener seeded the slow bloom of Russian lan- 
guage teaching across the country. His student George Rapall Noyes 
was hired by Berkeley in 1901, and the University of Chicago and Yale 
shortly followed suit with appointments of their own. 46 Enrollments 
were low, but these institutions and the few that joined them persisted 
through the early decades of the twentieth century. 

An awful lot of Americans already knew Russian, but they were not 
terribly eager to speak it. According to the 1910 census, which counted 
92,228,496 Americans, 57,926 people listed Russian as their native lan- 
guage, out of a total of 1,184,382 who named Russia as their land of 
birth. 47 (Many of the latter were presumably Jews whose native language 
was Yiddish, but it is likely that quite a few also knew the language 
of the Empire.) That meant potentially 1.3% of the American popula- 
tion at that time could understand Russian, which is quite a good deal 
better than how we found our scientists at the beginning of the per- 
ceived translation crisis in 1950. 

The fact that the capacity for Russian was not even lower among 
educated professionals at the dawn of the Cold War had a lot to do 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


with World War II. With wartime mobilization on multiple fronts — 
rationing, the draft, massive armaments buildup, and so on — came a 
vigorous effort to train American officers to speak the languages they 
would need to conduct this global war. The Army Specialized Train- 
ing Program (ASTP), which eventually encompassed some 40 lan- 
guages, took on the task, transforming American language pedagogy. 
Before 1914, there had been only five universities in America with regu- 
lar instruction in Russian, which had grown to 19 in 1939. By the time 
of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the ASTP had shot that number up to 
86 campuses around the country, and after the Soviets’ climactic vic- 
tory at Stalingrad that number rose to 112 by 1946. Cornell, and then 
Georgetown — where Leon Dostert helmed the language program — 
were the first to adopt ASTP methods. 48 

Despite 211 universities and colleges offering Russian in 1953, how- 
ever, enrollments dropped by 25% from the peak of 1947-1948, the 
opposite of the growth trend in other foreign languages. In 1934-1955, 
there were 4,000 students enrolled in Russian courses, compared 
with 70,000 enrolled in German, 95,000 in Spanish, and 110,000 in 
French. 49 Part of the difficulty was the absence of feeder programs from 
the high schools. Only 10 American high schools offered Russian in 
1957, down from a high of 17 a decade earlier. 50 And then the Soviet 
Union launched Sputnik, and the whole situation changed, seemingly 

Leon Dostert was paying attention. As he noted in i960, only a crisis 
seemed to rock Americans out of their habitual disregard of foreign 
languages: “Prodded by unexpected and external developments — be it 
a Pearl Harbor or the orbiting of a Sputnik — we are suddenly brought 
to a realization that the national efforts in the teaching of foreign lan- 
guages and related fields have not been adequate to meet our need.” 51 
Congress had passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958, fun- 
neling more than $28 million alone ($230 million in 2014 dollars) for 
pre-university education in foreign languages, besides even greater sums 
for science education. By 1959, four hundred American high schools 
offered at least one course in Russian. Thanks to this infusion, 19.1% 
of American high school students were enrolled in foreign-language 
courses — a huge improvement, although still lower than the equivalent 
19.5% in 1934, and the whopping 35.9% enrolled in modern languages in 
1915. (That same year, 37.3% of all American high schoolers were taking 
Latin.) 52 

Yet it was not enough. Despite a relative resurgence of training in 



Russian among America’s future scientists, the absolute numbers were 
appalling in the face of the juggernaut of Soviet publication — and did 
nothing to help current scientists who needed to grapple with this schol- 
arly literature. Attitudes needed to change. Alan Waterman, the first 
director of the NSF, announced in November 1953 that the “problem 
of languages can be met on a long-term basis only by stifter language 
requirements for science students.” 53 To meet the challenge, planners 
redefined the Russian language, so that when scientists learned Rus- 
sian, they would not be learning what you and I might conventionally 
understand as “the Russian language.” 

Instead, they would learn “scientific Russian” or “technical Russian.” 
This was, according to most commentators, a different beast from the 
tongue of Dostoevsky and Pushkin — a more docile, friendlier beast. As 
one booster of this idea noted as early as 1944: “Many of the factors 
that make conversational and literary Russian so forbidding are absent 
in scientific Russian, and an impressive number of new factors, inher- 
ent in Russian scientific writing, come to the aid of the reader .” 54 The 
latter are easiest to fathom: the international vocabulary of science (the 
same that had inspired Interlingua) and the presence of mathematical 
and chemical formulas made general orientation easier. But this was 
not what individuals like George Znamensky, who taught generations 
of scientists to read Russian at MIT, meant when he declared that “sci- 
entific Russian is comparatively simple .” 55 They meant that the Russian 
itselfwAS different. Consider V. A. Pertzoff’s rather extreme take on pro- 
nouns from 1964: 

Let us do a little statistical analysis. Not counting the indefinite pro- 
nouns, there are approximately 350 bits of information which you 
must carry in your head if you wish to locate a particular pronoun 
in its proper place in the case-gender system. [. . .] In order to spare 
you unnecessary labor, we undertook the rather arduous task of de- 
termining which pronouns are most frequently used in scientific 
texts. Scientific language is specialized, and, of course, these find- 
ings apply only to this type of exposition. 56 

Not having to learn unnecessary pronouns or all the verbal forms ? Now 
that made Russian easier. There were also syntactical transformations: a 
reliance on the passive voice (never mind that Russian has three ways of 
conveying this), simplicity of clauses, and authorial emphasis on clarity 
over stylistic virtuosity . 57 “Virtually everything about technical Rus- 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


sian,” one advocate insisted, “except the alphabet and pronunciation, 
differs to some degree from the study of Russian as we normally know 
it. Tlie aim, the scope, the student population, the teacher, the material, 
and the teaching method — all are specialized.” 58 

The invention by American scientists and Russian teachers of this 
category of “scientific Russian” implied the need for different kinds 
of courses for these technically savvy students. Before World War II, 
American physics departments had typically required doctoral candi- 
dates to develop a reading knowledge of French and German, and few 
bothered with other languages. Throughout the 1950s, however, many 
graduate programs allowed the substitution of Russian to meet this re- 
quirement, and in fall 1958 the Mechanics Department at the Illinois 
Institute of Technology became the first program to require Russian 
as one of its two language qualifications. 59 Meanwhile, chemists “con- 
stitute [d] the largest group of students studying Russian,” and self- 
teaching guides began to appear in major chemical journals as early as 
1944 to meet the demand. 60 

New courses leapt into the breach: “In any institution which offers 
graduate work at the doctoral level, with its attendant language re- 
quirement, a technical Russian course is indeed a necessity.” 61 Already 
in 1942 Znamensky began offering MIT students a yearlong course for 
three hours a week “enabling a good student by the end of the year to 
read scientific articles in Russian.” 62 Debates raged about how much 
time one had to invest in learning this reduced, simplified, “scientific” 
language — or rather, how little. There were three-month courses, 16- 
week courses (with two one-hour meetings a week), double courses of 
two hours a week with 18-week semesters, and so on. 63 As of 1951, when 
general enrollments in Russian were declining, 24% of all schools that 
taught Russian also offered courses on scientific Russian, and by 1957, 
of the over 4,000 students taking the language, between 10% and 20% 
were enrolled in these specialized courses. 64 In order to assuage stu- 
dents’ fears of the formidable language, conventional comparisons of 
the language as “very similar to Technical German with regard to sen- 
tence structure and inverted word order,” 65 or — in a more common but 
completely contradictory refrain — that “[pjerhaps the most important 
similarity is the word order, which is so nearly the same that, once the 
corresponding English words have been written under the successive 
words in a Russian sentence, very often no rearrangement is needed to 
produce understandable English sentences and minor rearrangement 
suffices to provide good idiomatic English.” 66 (Given that English and 



German do not share the same word order, both cannot be right. Per- 
sonally, I think the English side wins this argument.) 

Textbooks and scientific readers proliferated, ranging from James 
Perry’s magisterial Scientific Russian to compressed pamphlets that read 
more like reference manuals than plausible texts for classroom study. 67 
People even experimented with teaching by radio or television. The first 
instance of the latter, “Basic Russian for Technical Reading,” was taught 
by Dr. Irving S. Bengelsdorfi a chemist working for General Electric’s 
main laboratories in Schenectady, New York, for two mornings a week 
for twelve weeks. Originally meant for 250 scientists in the upstate New 
York area, it became a runaway success — its final audience reached be- 
tween ten and twelve thousand. 68 Others that had nothing to do with 
science followed, which demonstrates a significant point: in matters of 
language training during the early Cold War, scientific languages often 
led the way, both by highlighting the language barrier, and — crucially — 
in specifying the kind of Russian to be mastered. Amid all this tumult, 
a man from Georgetown emerged as an unlikely messiah. 

Mr. Dostert’s Wondrous Device 

Leon Dostert was the last person one would have imagined working to 
replace human translators. 69 He was born on 14 May 1904 in Longwy, 
France, a few kilometers from the Belgian border. When he was ten, 
he found his village overrun by German troops in the European cata- 
clysm of the Great War. As a schoolchild in occupied territory, he 
was forced to learn German, which he mastered quickly, and the Ger- 
mans set him to work as an interpreter. After the Americans liberated 
Longwy, Dostert began to study English, which he likewise soon com- 
manded. The sickly teenager, weakened by the hardships of wartime, 
once again translated, and the American soldiers became fond of him. 
When his health recovered, a few of them sponsored the boy to study 
in the United States, and he enrolled in Pasadena High School in 1921, 
and then at Occidental College in Los Angeles three years later. He 
transferred from Occidental to Georgetown University, and earned his 
bachelor of science from the School of Foreign Service in 1928 (and an 
additional bachelor of philosophy and master’s degree from George- 
town in 1930 and 1931, respectively). He studied at the Sorbonne for a 
year, and began work toward a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University 
(completing the coursework in 1936). He was appointed Professor of 

The Dostoevsky Machine 231 

French at Georgetown in 1939 and named chair of the Department of 
Modern Languages. 

Dostert had two indisputable gifts: a facility with languages and a 
talent for getting people to do him favors. 70 Both would stand him in 
good stead as Europe — and the world — was once more engulfed by war. 
In September 1939, France was again at war with Germany, and Dostert 
(still a French citizen), served his tour in the infantry as an Attache at 
the French Embassy in Washington, DC. After the fall of France in July 
1940, Dostert spurned the collaborationist Vichy regime and in August 
1941 became an American citizen. Relieved of duty, he taught as Pro- 
fessor of French Civilization at Scripps College in California, where he 
penned a pamphlet to educate the American public about France’s re- 
cent history in order to mobilize support for intervention in Europe. 71 
After Pearl Harbor, Dostert was appointed a Major in the US Army, 
served as liaison officer to the Free French General Henri Giraud in 
North Africa, and was General Dwight Eisenhower’s French inter- 
preter. He also worked with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the 
wartime intelligence organization that would seed the CIA. 

In 1945, having been decorated by the French, Moroccan, and Tuni- 
sian governments, Dostert (now a colonel) was assigned the unprece- 
dented task of arranging for simultaneous translation of English, French, 
German, and Russian at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. As the story 
goes, while observing how distracting it was to have interpreters whis- 
pering all the time — and, even worse, the immense delays of consecu- 
tive interpretation — he hit on the idea of sequestering the interpreters 
in a booth and piping sound to the parties through headsets. He per- 
suaded Thomas Watson, Jr., a prewar acquaintance who would become 
(in 1952) the second president of IBM, to have his company donate the 
equipment for the venture. 72 In 1946, Dostert was asked to do the same 
for the fledgling United Nations in Flushing Meadows, New York, and 
then ascended the ranks of international translation, moving to Mexico 
City in 1948 as Secretary General of the International High Frequency 
Broadcasting Conference under UN auspices. In 1949 he was called 
back to Georgetown University as the first director of the newly cre- 
ated Institute of Fanguages and Finguistics. 

Dostert published little (essentially nothing in linguistics) but orga- 
nized a great deal; most of his efforts were directed to either technologi- 
cal or institutional modernization of language instruction. In addition 
to administering the teaching of 36 languages, he established programs 



for teaching English in Yugoslavia and later in Turkey, with the goal of 
giving military officers a chance to familiarize themselves with the lan- 
guage before coming to the United States for training. He was also a 
fierce advocate of language laboratories — a controversial innovation at 
the time — and pioneered the “binaural apparatus” to enable students 
to simultaneously hear native and foreign language versions of the same 
text (a modification of the Nuremberg technology ). 73 This man, a poly- 
glot interpreter with little interest in formal linguistics and no facility 
with electronics, became the key proponent ofMT. 

Having lived through two world wars, it stands to reason that pre- 
venting a third lay at the root of Dostert’s surprising foray into com- 
puting. His Institute, located at 1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW in 
Dupont Circle in the American capital, was geographically embedded 
among the pressures of the Cold War, and Dostert was convinced that 
translation was vital to national security. In 1951, in the Army journal 
Armor, Dostert questioned the efficacy of force commitments to the 
newborn North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) precisely on 
the grounds of linguistic incommensurability: “This writer believes 
that unless the problem of multilingualism inherent in the creation of 
an integrated international force is recognized, properly defined and 
analyzed, and practical action taken to meet it squarely, we shall fall 
way short of our potential effectiveness in this important field.” Com- 
mitted contingents of “co-equal sovereign governments” spoke English, 
French, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Italian, Portuguese, and poten- 
tially Icelandic — a military debacle in the making. 74 Could the West do 
better ? W ithin a year of publishing this article, a silver bullet presented 
itself to slay this nightmarish Babel. 

Like the Cold War itself, Dostert’s panacea emerged out of the 
rubble of World War II. Among the canonical technologies developed 
during the war — including nuclear weapons, radar, and the jet engine — 
perhaps the last to receive widespread attention was the electronic com- 
puter. As is well known, in wartime the calculating machine was turned 
to a variety of ends (including computing cross-sections for nuclear 
physics), but the most glamorous was code-breaking, and it was from 
this context that MT popped into the mind of Warren Weaver, the long- 
serving director of the Division of Natural Sciences at the Rockefeller 
Foundation. Drawing from his own wartime experience and a conver- 
sation he had in 1947 with British electrical engineer Andrew Donald 
Booth, Weaver wrote to MIT polymath Norbert Wiener — the son of 
Leo Wiener, the first professor of the Russian language in the United 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


States — on 4 March 1947 about the possibility of machine translation, 
later excerpted in a memorandum on the question he penned on 15 July 
1949 and circulated widely: 

Recognizing fully, even though necessarily vaguely, the semantic 
difficulties because of multiple meanings, etc., I have wondered if 
it were unthinkable to design a computer which would translate. 
Even if it would translate only scientific material (where the seman- 
tic difficulties are very notably less), and even if it did produce an 
inelegant (but intelligible) result, it would seem to me worth while. 

Also knowing nothing official about, but having guessed and in- 
ferred considerable about, powerful new mechanized methods in 
cryptography — methods which I believe succeed even when one 
does not know what language has been coded — one naturally won- 
ders if the problem of translation could conceivably be treated as 
a problem in cryptography. When I look at an article in Russian, I 
say: “This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some 
strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode .” 75 

There are several points of interest in this passage: the role of the lan- 
guage barrier in complicating the postwar world order; the specific 
focus on Russian; and the emphasis on scientific texts. All three would 
become dominant themes of the first decade of MT. Wiener, fluent in 
several languages, dismissed the idea as computationally and linguisti- 
cally unworkable: “I frankly am afraid the boundaries of words in dif- 
ferent languages are too vague and the emotional and international con- 
notations are too extensive to make any quasimechanical translation 
scheme very hopeful.” 76 Others were more receptive, including univer- 
sal science-policy maven Vannevar Bush, who responded in October 
1949 that “I think the job could be done in away that would be extraor- 
dinarily fascinating.” 77 

Weaver could afford to indulge his pet ideas. In 1952 he sponsored 
the first Conference on Mechanical Translation, held at Wiener’s own 
MIT from 17 to 20 June 1952. 78 At this point, the community of schol- 
ars interested in machine translation was rather small, but MIT had al- 
ready appointed Israeli philosopher Yehoshua Bar-Hillel for a one-year 
position in this field (in collaboration with the Research Laboratory 
of Electronics, the postwar successor to the Rad Lab, where radar had 
been developed during the war), and his early papers on MT’s philo- 
sophical and methodological problems proved foundational . 79 Bar- 

2 34 


Hillel brought together all of the fledgling field’s advocates. (The total 
bibliography of works related to MT at this point comprised under 
two dozen research reports and publications.) Leon Dostert, curiously, 
chose to attend. 

It is unclear why the organizers thought to invite Dostert, who had 
demonstrated no interest in this question before being asked to MIT. 
His five-year plan for the Institute of Languages and Linguistics, sub- 
mitted in 1952, made no mention of machine translation, and yet by the 
end point of that proposed time-frame (1958), Georgetown would have 
the largest MT program in the country . 80 (The other grand venture at 
Dostert ’s Institute during the 1950s was the promotion of spoken Latin, 
a pet project of some of the Jesuit priests who administered the univer- 
sity. 81 ) No written text of his presentation, entitled “Ordinary Transla- 
tion and Machine Translation,” survives, but a participant recalled that 
Dostert drew on his experiences at Nuremberg and the United Nations 
to present the perspective of human translation, describing “systems 
employed in setting up efficient simultaneous translation systems and 
also rapid printed translations in international gatherings. These sys- 
tems were remarkably similar in their organization to machine orga- 
nization for computer application. He confessed that he came to the 
Conference as a skeptic .” 82 

He did not stay one long. “The experience and impressions gained 
at that conference,” he later recalled, “led me to the conclusion that, 
for a plausible approach to the general problem, one would have to ac- 
cept as a first postulate that the primary difficulty is really a linguistic 
one.” A second conclusion followed: “[Rjather than attempt to resolve 
theoretically a rather vast segment of the problem, it would be more 
fruitful to make an actual experiment, limited in scope but significant 
in terms of broader implications.” It was thus easy to see that “[t]he 
Georgetown-I.B.M. experiment was, in a sense, a direct result of this 
meeting .” 83 Dostert had pitched a machine demonstration at the con- 
ference itself, suggesting, as one participant recalled, “the early creation 
of a pilot machine or of pilot machines proving to the world not only 
the possibility, but also the practicality ofMT .” 84 

The MT community was, from the beginning, “well aware of the 
linguistic and engineering problems involved,” as Erwin Reifler put 
it, and did not proceed “in blissful ignorance of the manifold difficul- 
ties of the task .” 85 How did you organize a dictionary given the lim- 
ited amount of storage available on magnetic drums ? Should you in- 
sert a dictionary entry for every morphologically different form of a 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


verb (“think” /“thinks”), or create some algorithm to undo the trans- 
formations (but then how to account for the past tense “thought”)? 
Could you codify rules for transpositions of word order? What about 
the omission of features of the source language (like the Russian par- 
ticles “>kc” and “ah”) that did not have counterparts in English? Or the 
inclusion of features in the target language absent in the source (such 
as definite and indefinite articles, which Russian lacks) ? Would texts 
have to be simplified in advance by a native speaker of the source lan- 
guage, to eliminate lexical and syntactic ambiguities (“pre-editing”)? 
Or would you need to rely on a native speaker of the target language to 
fix the output (“post-editing”) ? From the very first publication on MT 
in 1951, these issues were hashed out practically and theoretically, on 
computers and on paper. 86 

MT as a field was torn by serious debates about almost every assump- 
tion and approach, both before the Georgetown experiment and after, 
but there were two areas of conspicuous agreement. The first was the 
language of translation. Although MIT stuck with German, and there 
were ventures in French in Booth’s laboratory in Great Britain, the vast 
majority of Anglophone researchers were interested in Russian, just as 
Warren Weaver had been in 1949. There were obvious geopolitical rea- 
sons for the attention to Russian as a source language, but there were 
also intellectual ones — namely, the perceived quality of Soviet techni- 
cal achievements — which brings us to the second point of consensus: 
focusing on scientific and technological texts. This was a direct con- 
sequence of the widespread attention given to the category of “scien- 
tific Russian.” If you had to focus on the Soviets because the sponsors 
wanted it, then advocates insisted the only way to handle the task was 
to target scientific Russian, since it was the only sort that was tractable. 
When looking for your lost keys at night, it is best to stay under the 
lamppost, where you have a prayer of seeing them. 

Most researchers would echo Kenneth Harper’s assertion in 1953 
that “ [i] t is only within this limited sphere of ‘scientific Russian’ that 
our mechanistic and perhaps naive approach is valid.” 8 ' The year after 
the Georgetown-IBM experiment, he continued along the same vein, 
claiming that the simplification was not just lexical (limited word 
choice) but syntactic (how words were put together to generate mean- 
ing), for in “scientific writing, Russian sentence structure is definitely 
close to English — much closer than is normal for other forms of Rus- 
sian prose.” He extended his reasoning to morphology itself — that bug- 
bear of dictionary creation in an age of limited storage: 



The problem of identification of verb forms is less difficult in sci- 
entific Russian than in normal Russian prose; scientists very rarely 
make use of the imperative, of the first person singular, present 
tense, or of the second person, singular or plural, present tense. In 
the present (or the future) tense, therefore, we need be concerned 
only with three forms: third person, singular, and first and third 
persons, plural. The following also require identification: infinitive, 
past tense (four forms), and present and past adverbial participle 
(four possible forms). This gives a total of eleven forms that we must 
be prepared to distinguish!) . .]. 8S 

We can see the influence of this conception of scientific Russian 
throughout the construction of the protocol for the Georgetown-IBM 
experiment. 89 Before actually approaching a machine, Dostert arranged 
a human simulation of how a computer might approach language. That 
is, he tried to break down the process of parsing and translating a sen- 
tence without any attention to meaning. The computer would not 
“understand” the text, so the humans had to approximate that state. 
The result was the “Card Test”: 

This involved giving to individuals who did not know the source 
language, Russian, sentences in that language written in Roman- 
ized script. They were directed in writing to go through a look-up, 
not only of lexical items but of the syntactic manipulations as well. 
The look-up was based on instructions reduced to strictly mechani- 
cal terms rather than “thinking” operations. The subjects were able 
to take a sentence presented to them in Romanized Russian and to 
come up, by going through instructions a machine could follow, 
with a correct English rendition of the Russian sentences. True, it 
took them from 10 to 15 minutes to achieve the translation of a 10 
to 15 word sentence. But the significant fact is that, without know- 
ing the Russian language, and, therefore, without contributing any- 
thing except their ability to look up, which is what the computer is 
capable of doing, they came out with the correct English version. 90 

By this method, Garvin and Dostert isolated the rules of syntax that 
were minimally necessary to rendering the Russian as English, even- 
tually settling on six basic operations — what Peter Sheridan, the IBM 
mathematician who handled the programming, would call “rule-tags.” 91 

The Dostoevsky Machine 


However, in determining the syntactic patterns that could be handled 
by the machine, the linguists in turn were constrained to select input 
sentences that could be processed using those rules and only those rules, 
a tiny subset of the perhaps over one hundred rules they expected to be 
necessary to handle arbitrary samples of scientific Russian (let alone 
texts drawn from any sector of the language). 

The Georgetown-IBM system was what would later be termed a “di- 
rect” translation system. 92 It was designed to move from Russian into 
English without an “interlingua” to handle semantic features. (As a re- 
sult, it could not be applied in reverse, to undo the English and yield 
up the Russian.) The grammar rules were tagged to individual words 
in the dictionary. Each of the 250 Russian words had up to three nu- 
merical codes attached to it: the Program Initiating Diacritic (PID), 
and the two Choice Determining Diacritics (CDD 2 and CDD 2 ). Those 
codes defined a binary decision tree so that the program could select 
between two dictionary definitions (no word in Dostert’s dictionary 
had more than two definitions, and many if not most had only one), 
or between retaining the word order or inverting it. For example, if the 
PID of a word was “121,” then the computer should scan the following 
complete sentence word and see whether its CDD 2 was “221” or “222.” 
If the former, it should select the first English equivalent in the dictio- 
nary; if the latter, the second. If the PID was “131,” was the CDD 2 “23” ? 
If so, select the second English equivalent in the dictionary and retain 
the word order; if it was not, select the first equivalent and invert the 
word order. And so on. 93 There are obvious limitations to this system: 
the assumption that all choices could be reduced to two; the redundant 
coding required of every single dictionary term; the absence of negative 
particles or compound and interrogative sentences; and the ability to 
scan only one word forward or backward, rendering it unable to deal 
with complex inversions or rearrangements of adjectival phrases. 94 

Nonetheless, the result was impressive, by any measure. For ease of 
programming, romanized Russian sentences (using a rather idiosyn- 
cratic transliteration system) were rendered on punchcards (Figure 8.2), 
and then run into the machine. Here is a selection of the sentences with 
their rendered translations from the 7 January 1954 demonstration: 



Starch is produced by mechanical methods from potatoes. 




71 1 



V vlU M j*n^ll **»■ 1 M nlw «» »' «*W >» ” m>7 

0 0 0 1 

• I > 

I » I 


1 1 J < 

3 3 3 ! 

4 4 4 ' 


5 5 5 1 

6 5 6 t 

7 7 7 i 

8 8 8 ! 

< n 1 

9 9 9 1 

|0 0 0 0 
I I I 
1 1 1 

[0 0 0 0|0 0 0 Ijl 

'a * n 

01 Mllll 

it v n ;* 

I I 1 

•• it a I 

1 | 1 I 

2 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 1 2 ?H 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 

« t 1 * « 11 m u m •» up '« i» :t » a /) 

3 3 3:3 3 3 3 3 3 3 13 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 

14 4 4 

k « 1 i[ 

> 5 5 51 

4 4 4 4 

1 it H if 

5 5 5 5 

4 4 4 4 

5 5 5 5 

4 4 4 4 

M It It »l 

5 5 5 5 

i 6 6 6 | 6|6 6]6 6 | 6|6 6 6 6 | 

12 77 

3 8 8 8 



i/Iij u it 1 * 11 it ns 

9 9 9 1 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9: 

39 9 

IJI.J It 11 'll • I II >1 »|l> tl It * If 

a 0 1 ok 0 0 1 0 111:11 1 0 0 0 0 | o 0 1 

|i» * nn, 


12 2 2 2 

3 3 3 3 

II » II 

7 7 7 7| 

| It N) 

I I |1 



2 2 2 212 2 2 1 |? 2 2 2 | 

It * It illJJ M B M II M 3 tt| 

3 3 33 3 | 3 3 3 33 3 3 | 3 3 3 33|3 33 3 

4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4! 

lit it 11 nlit « n >: 

5 5 5 5j5 5 1 5 5 5 5 5 1 5 5 5j 

6 6 6 6'6 | 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 

7 7 7 7 

pi n n p4« s ;i » 

7 7 7 7 


n r |i mu « h 

9 9 9 9 

9 9 9 9| 

4 4 4 4 

pi m it ti 

5 5 5 5 

6 6 6 6 
IP N »*[ 

7 7 7 7 

19 9 9 9 



| 2?|2 

6 6 6 6 

[t' w uu 

7 7 7 7 


|tt IS Si MU H U M )> H III 

2 2 2 ? 

IS IP tt 

|7 7 7 7 


*P tl tl 

4 4 4 4| 

lit tan 

II 11 


2 2 2 2 

2 2 2 2 

1 ) tt M 

j< tt 1 u 

3 3 3 3 

3 3 3 | 

4 4 4 4 

4 4 4 4 

5 5 5 515 | 5 5 | 5 5 515 5 5 |5 | 5 5 5 5 5 5 

6 6 6 6 6 1 6 616 6 6 6,6 6 1 6 6 6 6 6 

tt * si iris) si st ssisi s» v» ttl 



[tt tt SI MU St SS M s.- 31 St *| 

9 9 9 9j9 9 9 9 

Ml tl t) MBS tt II «S| 

si ss stisp tt st tc 

7 7 7 7 


|| US) SI I 


|St SSl'ttl 


4 4 4 4 1 

|«> usi 

||i IIU Ml 

7 7 7 7 

9 9 9 3 3 |9 9 9 9 9 S| 

(ss 19 n 11 J) h rt Ml 

11 11 II 1 I 

2 2 2 2 

it M II II 

3 3 3 3 

|4 4 4 4 

is u n Ml 

5 5 5 5 

6 6 6 6 
»S « II H 

7 7 7 7 

[1 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 

C tl Still tt IP M 

4 4 4 4| 

|*l M PI 

5 5 5 51 

6 6 6 6 ! 

|n N n 

7 7 7 7| 

U still M SP ul(S S* |l tjlpj It n 1*1 

2 2 2 2 | 


3 3 3 3 

4 4 4 4 

l| It PS M 

5 5 5 5 

6 6 6 6 


7 7 7 7 

M lt«( 
11 11 

22 ? 2 | 

pp pi 1 * « 

3 3 3 3 

4 4 4 4 " 

ip •* 11 « c 

5 5 5 5 : 

6 6 6 6 
ri pi n k 

7 7 7 7 

8 8 8 8 
•>.* 1 J 
9 9 9 9 


IBM 7J3727 

figure 8.2. Punch card from the Georgetown-IBM experiment. Hiis sentence was 
rendered as “Processing improves the quality of crude oil.” Courtesy of Georgetown 
University Archives. 


Magnitude of angle is determined by the relation of length of arc 
to radius. 


We transmit thoughts by means of speech. 


A military court sentenced a sergeant to deprival of civil rights. 


Roads are constructed from concrete. 


Dynamite is prepared by chemical process from nitroglycerine 
with admixture of inert compounds. 95 

In January 1954, and even today, this was amazing. 

The Dostoevsky Machine 

No Takers 


Amazement was precisely what Dostert was banking on. Within five 
months of the demonstration he was already making the rounds to 
potential patrons with deep pockets, pitching his system to the Navy, 
the NSA, and other organizations, several of which showed real inter- 
est . 96 Dostert ’s ambitions were enormous judged on the scale of con- 
temporary linguistics: “The plan, as now conceived, would involve the 
assignment of four part-time senior research consultants and eight to 
ten full-time junior research workers to do the linguistic processing; 
consultation with experts in various related fields, as required; and 
occasional testing on existing instruments of the language material as it 
becomes processed.” If someone could supply $125,000 ($1.1 million in 
2014 dollars), Dostert believed that within 12-18 months “the language 
data processed would permit the handling of a considerable amount 
of technical translation and would afford valuable experience for de- 
signing of an electronic instrument specifically built to handle language 
translation .” 97 And yet, despite some nibbles, no one bit. 

The price tag was only one of the issues. Paul Howerton, a specialist 
on Soviet chemical bibliography who was the CIA representative at the 
January demonstration, mentioned to colleagues that the experiment 
was “rigged” and “premature.” Word got back to Dostert, and he was 
furious. In partial self-exculpation, Howerton explained: 

I did refer to the experiment as “rigged” in the jargon of the labora- 
tory chemist. (To the chemist, a “rigged experiment” is one in which 
there is no variable as yet untested; i.e., a confirming experiment.) I 
regard the term “rigged” as synonymous with “controlled.” I do not 
mean, in any sense, to impugn the validity or objectivity of the dem- 
onstration in New York. 

But he would not back down on the issue of timing: “I felt that the dem- 
onstration was premature because of the several years research necessary 
to bring the instrument to actual routine operation .” 98 

Perhaps, but MT seemed to be establishing itself nevertheless. Al- 
though later critics would declare that the Georgetown-IBM experi- 
ment had “no scientific value,” they still credited it with alerting prac- 
titioners to the need for closer communications, so they could not 
be blindsided again. 99 Thus, also in 1954, William Locke and Victor 



Yngve of MIT established the first journal for the field, MT: Mechani- 
cal Translation. A little later that same year Harvard University awarded 
the first PhD on the topic (in applied mathematics) to Anthony Oettin- 
ger. His subject: creating a dictionary to translate Russian to English — 
technical Russian, of course. 100 These were baby steps, however, and the 
field continued at a low simmer until Dostert managed to find a suit- 
able patron, which happened in 1956. That was when the CIA finally 
signed on to Dostert’s vision, and it did so because of news from Mos- 
cow. Once again, it was time to panic. 


All the Russian That’s 
Fit to Print 

OpraHHnecKa^ xhmm y>Ke CTepAa nepTbi MOKAy >khboh h MepTBOH 
MaTepneH. Oihh6ohho pa3ACA_«Tb aioach Ha acHBbix h MepTBbix: ecTb 
AIOAH 5KHBbie-MepTBbie H ^KHBbie-5KHBbie. }KHBbie-MepTBbie TO>Ke nHHiyT, 
xoa^t, roBop^T, aca^iot. Ho ohh He OHm6aK>TC.H; He oiHH6a.acb — A^AaioT 
TaiGKe ManiHHbl, HO OHH ACAaiOT TOAbKO MepTBOe. ^CHBbie-^CHBbie — B 
omHdicax, b noHCKax, b Bonpocax, b Myicax.* 



One day in 1954, Aleksei Liapunov, the Soviet Union’s leading figure 
of cybernetics — the science of feedback and control that had been pio- 
neered in the United States by MT-skeptic Norbert Wiener — was leaf- 
ing through Referativnyi Zhurnal, a new journal of scientific abstracts, 
when he came across an interesting report. Hmmmm. Georgetown. 
Russian-to-English. Machine translation. Now here was an interesting 
idea. Since he could read English, he obtained the original article, wrote 
some memoranda, and organized a group of researchers at the Steklov 
Institute of the Academy of Sciences. Leon Dostert opened the door 
to experimenting with operational machine-translation devices, and 
Liapunov would walk right through. He brought company. 

There is no question that the Georgetown-IBM experiment — 
or, more precisely, the reportage about that experiment — drove early 
Soviet research. Two main groups developed under the auspices of the 
Academy of Sciences. In addition to Liapunov’s own program, which 
focused mainly on translating french into Russian, Dmitrii Iu. Panov 

* “Organic chemistry has already rubbed out the boundary between alive and dead 
matter. It is erroneous to divide people into the alive and the dead: there are alive- 
dead people and alive- alive people. The alive-dead also write, walk, speak, act. But 
they do not make mistakes; machines also don’t make mistakes, but they produce 
only dead things. The alive- alive exist in mistakes, in searches, in questions, in tor- 




at the Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computing Technology 
emphasized English-to-Russian direct translation. Panov even visited 
IBM headquarters in New York to observe the 701 in action, and com- 
missioned a fairly detailed account by two computer scientists of what 
was known about the experiment for the major journal of Soviet lin- 
guistics. 2 He and his colleagues were even permitted to publish a high- 
profile review of their work in Pravda, the Party’s central newspaper. 3 

From these beginnings, it only grew. The first Soviet publications 
on MT began to appear in late 1955. Just three years later, a conference 
in Moscow drew 340 representatives from 79 different institutions (21 
of these were ensconced within the cavernous domain of the Academy 
of Sciences) to hear 70 presentations. By 1964, Yehoshua Bar-Hillel — 
who had been the very first full-time researcher on MT in the world in 
1952 — declared the Soviet Union “the leading country of MT .” 4 Given 
the relatively limited contact between the Soviet and Western groups 
in the early years, it is unsurprising that programming strategies began 
to diverge. The most significant difference was to separate the program 
“into two fundamental parts — analysis and synthesis,”* that is, parsing 
the sentence first and then demanding a different protocol to inflect the 
root stems and endings . 5 The Soviets also pioneered the development of 
“interlingua” programs, which rendered source material into an abstract 
code which could then be transformed into several other languages by 
independent protocols, a strategy indebted both to programming and 
linguistic traditions as well as the Soviets’ need for multilateral transla- 
tions due to the multilingual nature of their country . 6 

The Soviet Union erected this massive MT establishment out of fear 
of the Americans; the United States returned the compliment. News of 
Soviet interest in machine translation jumpstarted Leon Dostert’s abor- 
tive efforts to obtain a large grant to develop the limited Georgetown- 
IBM experiment. Dostert noted with great satisfaction (and even 
greater understatement) in 1957 that publicity of Soviet experiments 
on their BESM machine “was not unrelated to a renewal of interest and 
support for work in MT in the United States. In June of 1956 George- 
town University received a substantial grant from the National Science 
Foundation [NSF] to undertake intensive research for the translation 
of Russian scientific materials into English. This grant has been renewed 
for a second year of continued research.” The push-me-pull-you char- 
acter of the “MT race” between American and Soviet programs was an 

Ha ABe ocHOBHwe nacTH — aHaAH3 h CHHTe3. 

All the Russian That’s Fit to Print 243 


0 I 1 1 1 1 1 1 

1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 

figure 9.1. Number of different journal titles in science and technology pro- 
duced in the Soviet Union, from 1954 to i960. Both the sheer quantity and the mas- 
sive growth were characteristic of Soviet scientific production during the Cold War. 
Boris I. Gorokhoff, Providing US. Scientists with Soviet Scientific Information, rev. ed. 
(Washington, DC: Publications Office of the National Science Foundation, 1962), 4. 

open secret among the global community of researchers. Anthony Oet- 
tinger, who led Harvard University’s program, later described it as “a 
kind of amiable conspiracy to extract money from their respective gov- 
ernments, playing each other off with various ‘experiments’ and ‘demon- 
strations’ that sometimes bordered on fraud.” 8 These accusations evoke 
some of the negative evaluations of the original Dostert experiment, 
and that 1954 demonstration would continue to be a touchstone — 
positive and negative — for the developments that followed. 

The Americans still perceived themselves in the throes of a trans- 
lation crisis, a necessary by-product of the scientific and technologi- 
cal competition that gripped the superpowers. MT was only one of the 
solutions proposed to deal with the perpetual avalanche of Soviet pub- 
lications in the natural sciences. The number of journals alone expanded 
almost exponentially, and each of these cried out for American readers 
to figure out what “Ivan” was up to. (See Figure 9.1.) Exhortation to 
learn Russian thus continued as a parallel strategy alongside MT. (And, 
ironically, one rather desperately needed by MT researchers themselves. 
One of the consequences of Soviet investment in this area was the pro- 

2 44 


duction of valuable Russian-language studies that many of the Ameri- 
can researchers complained about not being able to read! 9 ) 

The language barrier began to assume a different character in the 
mid-1950s. Those scientists and linguists who propounded the notion 
of “scientific Russian” viewed it as the province of individual decisions: 
to learn Russian, to research on machines, to pen editorials that the sky 
was falling. In the latter half of the decade, the language crisis began to 
be perceived as a national problem that was amenable to solution by the 
state. This was less surprising in the Soviet Union, where most scientific 
problems were viewed this way, but in the United States it represented 
something of a sea change that would permanently alter the terrain of 
debate. Thus, around 1955, not only did the state charge into MT on 
both sides of the Iron Curtain, but in the United States even the fledg- 
ling enterprise of cover-to-cover translation of Soviet journals — which 
will occupy the bulk of this chapter — was transformed from an entre- 
preneur’s gamble to the largest translation program in the history of sci- 
ence. In following this intertwined history of MT and cover-to-cover 
translation, we see that the “language barrier” comprised three distinct, 
though related, issues: language of publication, quantity of information 
published, and access to the material. MT focused on the first to the ne- 
glect of the others, an oversight that would be partly responsible for its 
catastrophic collapse by 1966. 

The Great MT Gold Rush 

The beginnings of the 1956-1966 boom in machine translation can be 
traced not so much to the Georgetown-IBM experiment as to its pro- 
genitor, Leon Dostert. Dostert, as we have seen, persuaded Thomas 
Watson of IBM to donate the dictaphone technology that made simul- 
taneous translation a success at Nuremberg and at the United Nations, 
and then again to underwrite the enormous opportunity cost of time 
on the IBM 701 that made the 1954 experiment possible. But during the 
war, while working alongside the Office of Strategic Services, America’s 
intelligence organization, he met his greatest patron: Allen Dulles. In 
1956, after the Office of Naval Research and Army Intelligence had 
declined to fund MT, Dulles came through in a big way. Three years 
earlier, Dulles had become the head of the Central Intelligence Agency 
(CIA) in the new administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. 
Dulles wanted to know what the Soviets were doing, he had far too few 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


Russophone analysts, and “Leon” claimed he could make this happen 
through his machines. 10 Dulles was willing to pay. 

Although not, at first, entirely openly. Dostert had pitched an appar- 
ently very modest goal to the NSF in 1956: “To focus research for the 
purpose of achieving, mechanically, as complete translation as possible 
from Russian into English in the field of chemistry, primarily organic.” 
Basing themselves on texts from the Soviet Journal of General Chem- 
istry ( Zhurnal obshchei khimii), the most important chemical publi- 
cation in the Soviet Union, Dostert ’s team of researchers “will aim at 
the presentation of unedited Russian texts at the input and strive to 
achieve semantically accurate translation in English at the output, al- 
though the output material may require stylistic editing if this is found 
to simplify the storage problem.” He expanded his earlier plan, now 
proposing to hire seven linguists, eight linguistic research assistants, five 
Russian-to -English translator-lexicographers, six bilingual clerical assis- 
tants, a bilingual secretary, and an administrative secretary, for a budget 
of $103,850 (over $900,000 in 2014 dollars). 11 Dostert made sure the 
award received wide publicity, both in Georgetown publications and in 
Washington newspapers. 12 What the reports did not say was that a good 
deal of this money was CIA cash, simply funneled through the NSF. 
The NSF numbers from 1956 through 1958 were $100,000, $125,000, 
and then $186,000 — $305,000 of which was from the CIA — with 
subsequent direct CIA infusions without the NSF middleman total- 
ing $1,314,869 (over $9.7 million in 2014 dollars). This was by far the 
largest award of funds for MT to any institution in the United States, 
and by 1962 even Georgetown’s publicity team openly acknowledged 
CIA sponsorship. 13 When questioned by a Congressional committee 
about these sums in i960, both the anonymous CIA witness (almost 
certainly Paul Howerton, the one-time MT skeptic who became CIA 
case officer for the project) and Dostert defended these numbers by la- 
conically noting that the Soviet Union was even more heavily invested 
in MT than the Americans. 14 

Dostert built up an MT program at Georgetown commensurate 
with these sums, unheard-of for almost any project outside of nuclear 
physics or public health. 15 He stressed organic chemistry, because, as 
this 1959 internal report made clear, that science lent itself to MT: 

The theoretical necessity for such a routine lies in the fact that the 

number of organic compounds is in theory infinite; and in practice 



it is enormous. Therefore it seems wasteful to burden the main dic- 
tionary with literally hundreds of thousands ofvery long items. Sec- 
ondly, compounds can be and are created in the laboratory for the 
purpose of studying them. Names are created for them according 
to established rules, names which can be translated by this type of 
routine. But after laboratory testing the particular compound may 
never be made again, and its name never appears in the literature 
again. Thirdly, the freedom with which carbon can combine with 
itself over and over and with other elements means that a dictionary 
which is relatively complete in other areas of the chemical language 
can never hope to have all the organic compounds in it. Therefore 
the need for a machine technique to analyze chemical terms . 16 

The corpus of words garnered from the analysis of only a few years of the 
Journal of General Chemistry was enormous (24,000 words by 1957). 17 

The linguistic results were promising. For example, the rules for add- 
ing definite articles to plural nouns in chemistry texts applied about 
80% of the time — which seemed pretty good — and the rule worked 
“even for general texts, although to a lesser degree.” 18 Coding continued 
apace. By the end of the decade, 85,000 more terms in organic chemistry 
had been keypunched, composed of about 8,000 distinct words, which 
reduced to 3,200 entries (notice the compression characteristic of scien- 
tific language). Tabor costs became a concern, and Dostert rented com- 
mercial space in Frankfurt, Germany, in i960, recruiting 200 keypunch 
operators for $8o/month, a quarter of the American wage. 19 George- 
town won the coveted contract to translate Russian atomic- energy 
documents into English for both the Atomic Energy Commission at 
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and for EURATOM in Ispra, northern Italy. 20 

Not surprisingly, Dostert ’s success sparked resentment. When A. D. 
Booth and William Locke published the proceedings of the 1952 MIT 
conference in 1955, Dostert ’s was the only essay to receive a cautionary 
editorial footnote: “Its inclusion in this book reflects the editors’ desire 
to cover all aspects of the application of machines to translation and 
should not be taken as indicating their acceptance of all the author’s 
views.” 21 Dostert’s lack of hard-core linguistic publications was prob- 
ably the heart of the worry, but the showmanship contributed. Anthony 
Oettinger would later recollect Dostert as “a great conversational- 
ist [. . .], but as a researcher I was unsure about him, whether he was just 
a figurehead or whether he was a bit of a fraud — the Georgetown MT 
demonstrations seemed always to be contrived; they made impressive 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


publicity for the sponsors, but they soured the atmosphere by raising 
expectations that nobody could possibly fulfil .” 22 Booth, for example, 
gleefully dismissed Dostert as “one of the less esteemed members of the 
American MT community .” 23 MT colleague Winifred Lehmann was 
overheard describing him as “a wart on the field of linguistics .” 24 

Yet Dostert’s rising tide lifted all boats: the more he stumped for 
MT, the more grant money flowed to everyone. By i960, five separate 
governmental agencies — NSF, CIA, the Army, Navy, and Air Force — 
were all funding mechanical translation at a steadily growing rate. The 
National Defense Education Act, passed on 2 September 1958 as a re- 
sponse to Sputnik, specifically indicated that the NSF and other groups 
“undertake programs to develop new or improved methods, including 
mechanized systems for making scientific information available.” 25 That 
same year, the Army and the Navy joined in the funding boom. 

Meanwhile Victor Yngve and William Locke at MIT devoted them- 
selves to building a professional community of MT researchers. In 1954, 
the year of the Georgetown-IBM experiment, they established MT: 
Machine Translation, the first journal exclusively devoted to this topic. 
The early issues were composed on an electric typewriter in Locke’s 
office, and eventually the journal moved to a commercial compositor. 
MT could only sustain that change with page charges, which granting 
agencies were initially happy to subsidize. In June 1962, a professional 
society for MT was founded, at which point the irregular MT had al- 
ready published 52 articles and 187 abstracts in its total of 532 pages. It 
moved to Chicago with Yngve, and then to University of Chicago Press, 
but the costs proved too great and the journal foundered in 1970. 26 The 
story o(MT is the story ofMT in miniature: high hopes in 1954, mas- 
sive grants, and then, around 1965, a precipitous collapse. 

But catastrophe was the furthest thing from the minds of the dozens, 
and then hundreds, of linguists, programmers, statisticians, and engi- 
neers who flocked to machine translation. MT began to reshape lin- 
guistics in turn. Some have linked MT to the revival of structuralism — 
an approach developed decades earlier based upon the teachings of 
Ferdinand de Saussure (brother of the editor of the Esperantist Inter- 
nacia Scienca Revuo). The tremendous postwar rise of structuralist 
analysis of language is often identified with the immensely influential 
work of Noam Chomsky in the late 1950s. Yet the receptive audience 
for that work was partially conditioned by the flurry of MT publica- 
tions. In 1963, Dostert noted that the “development of structuralism 
in contemporary linguistics is at the basis of the concept of machine 



translation, since, without structuration procedures, the idea of sign- 
substitutions or automatic transfer of linguistic data would hardly be 
conceivable,” and even his arch-rival, A. D. Booth, considered it axiom- 
atic to assume “that structural linguistics as a science has already pro- 
gressed to a state in which it is possible to devise adequate rules of pro- 
cedure for translation from one language to another in terms which can 
be understood by a computing machine .” 27 Structuralism’s resurgence 
in Western thought — in linguistics, in philosophy, in anthropology — 
fit perfectly into the climate fueled by the intensity and raw financial 
support that flowed into MT. 

This was especially visible across the geopolitical divide. Stalin’s 
1950 intervention in linguistics had the consequence of firmly estab- 
lishing historical-comparative linguistics within the Soviet Union, as 
we saw in the previous chapter. In the Soviet context, that attention 
to the diachronic evolution and transformation of languages effectively 
countered structuralism’s emphasis on synchronic analysis of linguis- 
tic structures. A year after Stalin’s death, Liapunov jumpstarted Soviet 
MT. Given the symbiotic relationship between algorithmic machine- 
translation processes and structuralist analyses of language, it is no ex- 
aggeration to say that Soviet research at this intersection rescued Soviet 
structuralism, morphing Soviet linguistics into perhaps the most struc- 
turalist of any national community in the world. 28 

Abstracting the World 

I have described the story of the Russian-English language barrier 
as principally an American story, one in which scientists and policy 
makers in the United States confronted a challenge posed by Soviet 
technical publishing. This lopsided emphasis has something to do with 
the sources: the Americans simply wrote more about this problem as a 
problem. Yet despite their panic, Americans could afford to be noncha- 
lant about the language barrier. After all, by the 1950s over 50% ofworld 
publication in such sciences as chemistry was appearing in English. The 
Soviets could not just ignore that work, and so their approach to the 
language barrier tended to be more holistic than that of the Americans, 
who sometimes casually dismissed Soviet work as substandard. For the 
Soviets it was not just about language, but also about quantity of infor- 
mation and access to it. The Soviet solution to the latter two problems 
would in turn challenge American attitudes to the organization and dis- 
tribution of scientific information. 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


Consider a seemingly simple problem: how did you learn about sci- 
entific findings happening outside your laboratory, whether down the 
street or across the ocean? (This was, recall, in the days before there was 
an Internet, let alone online databases or search engines.) One approach 
was to select the main journals in your field and then regularly thumb 
through each issue, studying the table of contents, reading many of the 
abstracts, and focusing on the relevant articles. Of course, if an article 
cited a significant paper in a journal outside the regular set, that would 
lead to another article, and crawling down the citation chain could en- 
rich your research. Yet this approach was maddeningly incomplete, 
essentially guaranteeing missing important articles in your subfield un- 
less some other scientist happened to have a broader bibliographic base 
and then published about it. There had to be a better way. 

There was: the abstract journal. The most comprehensive of these in 
English was the American Chemical Abstracts (which surpassed the Ger- 
man Chemisches Zentralblatt in coverage by the interwar period). The 
editors of Chemical Abstracts surveyed a very broad set of journals, in 
several languages, and then paid a per- abstract fee to an army of chem- 
ists to summarize articles from the journals to which they were assigned. 
You used it like a massive index. Yet there were three difficulties with 
this system: size, speed, and scope. Chemical Abstracts was huge. By the 
late 1950s, each annual issue produced 100,000 abstracts spread across 
10,000 pages of close printing; even the index was 5,000 pages long. 29 
Physically handling these volumes, let alone extracting useful informa- 
tion from them, was a chore. Time was a related issue: the more articles 
there were, and the more journals needed to be covered, the longer it 
took to abstract the current year. And then there was scope: Chemical 
Abstracts was confined to chemistry (albeit broadly construed). Could 
the abstract journal be fixed? 

By the late 1950s, it seemed to scientists on both sides of the Iron 
Curtain that the Soviets had done it. Russians had been abstracting for 
a long time, but partially and incompletely. The first Russian abstract 
journal, the Guide of Discoveries in Physics, Chemistry, Natural History 
and Technology {Ukazatel’ otkrytii po fizike, khimii, estestvennoi istorii i 
tekhnologii ) appeared from 1824 to 1831, and despite its title was hardly 
comprehensive, even for its limited lifespan. Individual subfields devel- 
oped their own abstract journals in Russia: there was one for medicine 
from 1874 to 1914 and one in railroad engineering from 1883 to 1916, 
but the Great War and the Russian Revolution ended those. Very little 
was done to systematize scientific information during the first decade 



of Soviet power. On 9 January 1928, the state established a Commission 
for the Compilation and Publication of Indexes of Scientific Literature, 
designed to abstract everything published in the Soviet Union, but it 
soon bogged down under the weight of material and Stalinist upheaval. 
The 1930s saw a return to abstract journals in several fields, but once 
again war’s advent ended several projects. Medical abstracts returned 
in 1948, but the other sciences were left uncataloged . 30 

Then, on 19 June 1952, the Soviet Academy of Sciences established 
an institute specifically to collate and publish information on scien- 
tific publications from around the world, responsibility for which was 
soon shared with the State Committee of the Council of Ministers of 
the USSR on New Technology (Gostekhnika). The new institute was 
called the All-Union Institute of Scientific and Technical Information, 
or VINITI in its Russian acronym. At first, VINITI’s central product 
was Referativnyi Zhurnal (. Abstract Journal ) — from which Liapunov 
had learned about the Georgetown-IBM experiment — which assidu- 
ously sifted through the international literature. It quickly eclipsed 
its Western rivals. Beginning in 1956 VINITI also produced Ekspress- 
Informatsiia, translations of crucial Western articles and pamphlets 
into Russian, and in 1957 issued a monograph series, Advances in Sci- 
ence and Technology. The Institute also put out photo-offset copies of 
roughly 300 Western journals (such as the American behemoth Physi- 
cal Review), identical to the original except for noticeably poorer paper 
quality. On 29 November 1966, VINITI assumed control of all the 
science-information services of the Union republics as well, becoming 
“the largest scientific information centre in the world,” according to a 
British delegation. At the end of its first decade, VINITI’s permanent 
staff reached 2,500, not including those working at its publishing house, 
or the 22,000 specialists who produced the over 700,000 abstracts it 
printed each year . 31 

VINITI was intended to be a solution to all three aspects of the lan- 
guage barrier. By centralizing information and reprinting foreign jour- 
nals, it could more easily tame the exponentially increasing quantity of 
global scientific information as well as granting access to foreign scien- 
tific periodicals within the Soviet Union. As for the language aspect 
of the barrier, Referativnyi Zhurnal bypassed it. Each abstract in the 
sixteen subsidiary abstract journals (divided by science, with chemis- 
try being the largest) had the same form: article title in Russian, au- 
thor’s name in Russian transcription, title in the original language, au- 
thor’s name in the original, name of journal, year, volume, issue, page, 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


the name of the language, the abstract in Russian, and the abstractor’s 
initials. All the foreign language text was reproduced in the original 
typography, whether the writing system was Cyrillic, Latin, Arabic, 
Devanagari, or Chinese. 32 Soviet scientists were expected to command 
several foreign languages, and many in fact did, yet VINITI continued 
to translate 85% of the world’s scientific tables of contents into Cyrillic 
so that everything could appear in standardized form. 33 

As one might expect, it was difficult to keep such an enterprise going 
indefinitely. By the late 1970s, Referativnyi Zhurnal lost its edge while 
VINITI became increasingly strapped for resources and personnel, sta- 
bilizing its coverage at a whopping 1.3 million abstracts a year while the 
scientific literature mushroomed ever larger. 34 But in the 1950s and into 
the 1960s, VINITI was the envy of American science planners, osten- 
sibly demonstrating why the Soviet Union had been able to assume the 
lead in the space race, as well as eclipsing the United States in the train- 
ing of scientists and engineers. The tremendous American investment in 
machine translation has to be understood against the backdrop of the 
total picture of Soviet science-information efforts as obsessively tracked 
by Western observers. And just as the Soviets were pouring money into 
automated translation, the Americans believed they needed to do some- 
thing else to surpass (or at least keep up with) the Soviets. Complete 
centralization was unlikely in the American political climate, but even 
a partial intervention to bridge the language gap would be welcome. 

Retail, Wholesale, and Welfare Translation 

According to the science press in the 1950s, MT played the starring role 
in the drama of Cold War scientific languages. As the decade progressed, 
however, a bit player began to assume an ever greater share of the lines: 
direct human translation of Russian articles into English. While MT 
focuses on the linguistic aspect of the language barrier, human trans- 
lation adds access to sources by providing readers with a version of the 
article they want in a language they can read. (Both approaches are, 
however, bedeviled by quantity: the more material there is, the more 
there is to translate, and the harder it is to keep up.) The idea behind 
training Americans to read scientific Russian was, of course, to turn 
each scientist into his own translator. Translation journals were sup- 
posed to be a stopgap. 

If you wanted to read a short story by Anton Chekhov but did not 
know Russian, you would look for a translation into a language you 



did know. Therefore it is not surprising that from a very early stage the 
notion of translating selected articles was seen as a remedy for the Cold 
War translation crisis. Starting in the late 1930s, a consortium of Ameri- 
can petroleum companies employed one of the leading bibliographers 
of Soviet science, J. G. Tolpin, to edit and privately circulate translated 
tables of contents, abstracts, and selected Soviet articles on hydrocar- 
bon and petroleum chemistry, a venture that lasted for eight years . 35 The 
shared interests of the consumers drove the choice of what to translate, 
and the deep pockets of the industry bankrolled the staggering costs . 36 

For the federal government, the selection problem was more fraught. 
After World War II, it outsourced the editorial selection of translations 
to those presumably in the know. For example, the American Mathe- 
matical Society in 1948 initiated a program (funded by the Office of 
Naval Research) to translate the highlights of recent Soviet mathemat- 
ics, and the newly created Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long 
Island began to translate the tables of contents of important periodi- 
cals but soon found themselves swamped by even this limited quan- 
tity of material. 37 To pool privately commissioned translations, the 
NSF funded a Translations Center at the Library of Congress (as well 
as a selective article-translation program for atomic energy at Columbia 
University), building on the Translation Index developed by the Special 
Libraries Association (SLA) in New York City. In 1953, the SLA Trans- 
lation Pool moved to the John Crerar Library in Chicago, and in 1956 
assumed the duties of the Library of Congress in its entirety, issuing 
monthly catalogs of the translations deposited with them. 38 The United 
Kingdom’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research experi- 
mented with a hybrid of translation pool and translating service: if two 
or more researchers independently requested a translation of an article, 
the state would pay for it and deposit it for general access. 39 These ap- 
proaches suffered from two intrinsic faults: they were unsystematic, the 
selections being made arbitrarily at the whim of the editors; and they 
were untimely, since by the time the translation was deposited and cata- 
loged, others might have already commissioned translations, or the in- 
formation might simply have turned stale. 

Earl Maxwell Coleman, who by his own admission had “no transla- 
tion skills whatsoever,” stumbled into this ramshackle world of techni- 
cal translation by accident, and founded a publishing operation called 
Consultants Bureau, Inc., with his wife, Frances, (and the measly capi- 
tal of $100) in 1946. That year, Coleman learned of a trove of twenty- 
one tons of captured German technical documentation, and he sensed 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


that someone could make money translating this material into English. 
Coleman approached the American Petroleum Institute, which had 100 
microfilms of German-language technical reports at 1,000 pages per 
reel, and he made them an offer based on an unheard-of price scheme: 
$1 per thousand words instead of the industry standard of $11 (Cole- 
man paid his men $10), but with multiple orders the price would drop 
gradually to a floor of 50 cents per thousand. That is, by pro-rating the 
translations he gave himself a guaranteed profit only if enough copies 
were ordered. Coleman kept losing money under this arrangement, 
while his translator, he claimed, flourished. Then Coleman had his sec- 
ond major insight: “I was paying him at a freelance rate even though 
I was keeping his lance at full tilt. It was as though I was paying him 
at a rate of $1,000 a week in a world of $50 a week salaries.” Coleman 
ran back to the office and slashed the pay: from $10 to $4 — starvation 
wages for a freelancer. “He ranted and raved and swore that he’d quit. 
He never did. Where else could he get as much work? — the key” By 
turning translation into assembly-line labor, Coleman changed the eco- 
nomics of the profession. He hired more translators, standardizing the 
job description in 1947 according to rules he maintained until the end 
of his career: 

1) To work for me you had to have English as a mother tongue. 

2) You had to have command of the target [sic] language because 
a) you’d studied it, or b) it was spoken fluently in your family. 

3) If you were translating chemistry you had to be a chemist, or at 
a minimum have an advanced degree in chemistry. [. . .] 

4) You had to be willing to work for me at $4 a thousand despite 
the impressiveness of the above demands. Implicit in the notion 
of so low a rate of pay was the following: You had to be able to 
translate fast or you wouldn’t make enough money to keep you 
interested. 40 

In 1949, the same year Warren Weaver penned his memorandum on 
MT, Coleman revolutionized scientific publishing. He had developed a 
new industry but had no market. The difficulty was twofold: he focused 
on German, and there just was not enough demand; and he produced 
discrete articles. He decided to change both premises: “ Suppose , I con- 
jectured, you translated a whole Russian journal.” 41 From the Consul- 
tants Bureau offices at 153 West 33rd Street in New York City, Cole- 
man decided to translate the entire run of the Zhurnal obshchei khimii 



(the same journal Dmitrii Mendeleev had published in almost a century 
earlier, albeit under a different name), as Journal of General Chemistry 
of the USSR. Translations of the first issue of the 1949 volume appeared 
in November 1949, eleven months late, to a total list of thirteen sub- 
scribers. Coleman borrowed money to keep his business afloat; within 
five years he produced five journals and within seven offered twelve en- 
tirely in-house. Coleman had become one of the most powerful indi- 
viduals in scientific publishing. 42 

Coleman modeled Consultants Bureau on a factory template. First, 
the Russian originals would arrive by air mail and translators were in- 
vited to select specific pieces from the tables of contents. The editor 
then distributed the work, ensuring no piece was left out, getting trans- 
lations back six weeks later. Those were edited for style and referred 
back to the translators (and, when he later subcontracted for learned 
societies, to boards there) for queries, then typeset, and hit the shelves 
six months after they arrived. 43 With this mode of production on a 
vastly larger scale, Coleman reduced the expense to 18 cents per thou- 
sand words — that is, under 2% of his 1946 expense (before taking infla- 
tion into account). 44 Who were these shockingly underpaid translators ? 
A 1970 study of Coleman’s stable found that most had PhDs and trans- 
lated in their spare time, but there were full-time translators who had 
been there from the very beginning. This group turned out more than 
34,000 pages of English from Russian originals a year. 45 

It wasn’t pretty. The volumes initially came out on 8.5x11 sheets of 
paper — rather larger than the close-printed original — and were little 
more than bound mimeographed typescripts. The pagination did not 
match the Soviet originals, although starting in the “September 1949” 
issue (which appeared sometime in 1950) the table of contents listed 
both sets of page numbers. Images were crudely mimeographed, with 
all the annotations in the original Russian, and appended to the end 
of the articles rather than printed in-line as they came from the Soviet 
Union. By the second year the translated Journal included indices for 
author, subject, and organic chemical empirical formula. It also wasn’t 
cheap. Coleman charged $7.50 for an individual article, $11 for an issue, 
and $95 for the whole year (almost $940 in 2014 dollars). Consultants 
Bureau took “cover-to-cover” seriously: there was no selection of the 
articles, and the idiosyncrasies of the Soviet original (lavish attention 
to the periodic table, nationalist priority claims, obituaries, historical 
pieces) were reproduced without comment. 

The real question had to be: was it any good as translation ? All too 

All the Russian That’s Fit to Print 


few American chemists could follow the Russian originals, so this was 
the best they had — but would an American chemist get accurate transla- 
tions from Coleman’s product ? Consider a spot analysis on a randomly 
selected article by G. I. Braz on the reactions of ethylene sulfide with 
amines, taken from the third year of publication (1952). Early in the 
translation, one comes across this sentence: 

As we might expect, ethylene sulfide behaves similarly with diethyla- 
mine. When freshly distilled ethylene sulfide is added at room tem- 
perature to a solution of diethylamine in methanol, a white pre- 
cipitate of polymeric compounds containing no nitrogen begins to 
settle out within a few minutes, the precipitation being complete 
within a few hours. 46 

Here is my rather literal rendition of the original Russian: 

As one would expect, ethylene sulfide behaves analogously also in 
relation to diethylamine. If one were to add at room temperature 
freshly distilled ethylene sulfide to a solution of diethylamine in 
methanol, then already in several minutes there begins the separa- 
tion of a white precipitate of polymeric compounds which do not 
contain nitrogen, which ends in several hours.* 47 

Hardly any cause to complain. Toward the middle of the article, how- 
ever, in a description of its core experimental procedure, I came across 
the following: “Fractionation of such a solution in a current of nitrogen 
after it had stood for 5 days at room temperature produced a yield of 
60% of (Tphenylaminoethanethiol.” 48 Here is what the Russian actually 
says, in my translation: “Letting such a solution stand at room tempera- 
ture for five days after fractionation in a stream of nitrogen produced 
[i — p h e n y 1 am i n o e th v 1 m e reap tan with a yield of 6o%.” t49 The chemical 
product is listed differently. This is in fact the same compound, but the 

*“Kaic h CAeAOBaAO o:»CHAaTb, aHaAornnHO BeAeT ce6^ 3THAeHcyAb(j>HA h no otho- 
npn KOMHaTHon TeMnepaType CBe^KenepemaHHbiH 3THAeHcyAb<j)HA, to yxtee nepe3 
HecKOAbKO MHHyT HaHHHaeTCH BbiAeAeHne 6eAoro ocaAKa He coAep5Kaii];HX a30Ta 
noAHMepHbix coeAHHeHHH, 3aKaHHHBaioH];eecfl nepe3 HecKOAbKO nacoB.” 

+ “npH CTO.HHHH Taicoro pacTBOpa npH KOMHaTHon TeMnepaType b TeneHne 5 cyTOK 
nocAe 4>paKi^HOHHpoBaHHon neperoHKH b TOKe a30Ta (2-<j>eHHAaMHH03THAMepKanTaH 
noAyHaeTca c bmxoaom 6 o%.” 



translator was inconsistent throughout the article about how he repre- 
sented it, sometimes using the modernized name, sometimes an older 
nomenclature. It could have been a typesetter’s error, or the product of 
rushed translation — either way, to a reader, this article would seem to 
be at best confused. The problem, as contemporaries indicated, was in- 
eradicable in precisely this area: “Organic nomenclature problems arise 
from faulty translations.^ . .] This type of error is extremely difficult to 
catch in editing.” 50 Yet what choice did the reader have ? He or she could 
not check the original Russian. Cover-to-cover was all there was. 

And soon, it was everywhere. Extant scholarly accounts of the his- 
tory of cover-to-cover translation emphasize the massive translation 
initiative of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), supported by the 
NSF. 51 In 1955, the AIP sent a survey to 300 physicists about their views 
on providing either complete or selected translations, and 269 replied, 
with results that “(a) an overwhelming majority favor establishment of 
a Russian-to -English translation service, (b) appreciably more than half 
believe complete translations of Soviet journals would be preferable to 
translation of selected articles, and (c) about 90% are of the opinion 
that they or their organization would subscribe to such a journal.” 52 
According to the survey, 79.8% supported cover-to-cover translation 
“[bjecause of the technical value of the research now in progress in the 
USSR,” and 72.3% added a caution about “the national danger of under- 
estimating the strength of the USSR, particularly as far as scientific ad- 
vances are concerned.” 53 

While Coleman created the industry almost by accident through 
calculating profit margins, the AIP debated the rationality of the ven- 
ture from every angle before committing resources to it. In 1954 Elmer 
Hutchisson, later the director of the AIP and the man behind the 1955 
survey, offered a laundry list of reasons why cover-to-cover was superior 
to selected translations: 

First, the administration and mechanics of a project in which selec- 
tions are made is much more complex than one in which journals are 
translated completely in a regular manner. Second, in many cases it 
would be necessary to translate abstracts, at least, so that the judges 
would be able to determine which articles should be translated and 
which should not. Third, any attempt to make a selection will un- 
doubtedly cause a delay. One would hope that after this process gets 
established and air-mailed page proofs are coming regularly, the En- 
glish edition would be available shortly after the Russian edition. 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


Further, because of the confidence that everything would be trans- 
lated, which is available in a given journal, the appeal of the trans- 
lated edition would be far greater and a more ready market would be 
found among libraries and industrial organizations. 54 

The reasoning made sense to the NSF, and they underwrote the cost of 
the first volumes, which helped keep the subscription price down. The 
procedures instituted by the AIP for their first journal — Soviet Physics 
JETP, a translation of Zhurnal eksperimental’noi i teoreticheskoifiziki — 
edited by Robert Beyer, professor of physics at Brown University, were 
remarkably similar to the work flow developed at Consultants Bureau, 
and the experiences of the physicists who translated in the wee hours 
to earn diaper money are also reminiscent of Coleman’s employees. 55 

As a matter of fact, the AIP was surprised to learn in 1954 that Con- 
sultants Bureau had been operating in the field — with five different 
journals already for sale, and without any government subsidy. “The 
venture presumably is successful,” a liaison from the Library of Con- 
gress noted, “since it has been in operation for several years.” 56 With 
NSF support, the economics were even more favorable than they had 
been for Coleman. A typical Soviet journal contained 500 words per 
page; a science journal, because of tables, images, and formulas, came 
in at roughly 300. With a volume comprising 1,000 pages (a reason- 
able estimate in 1955, a shocking undercount by decade’s end), that 
meant 300,000 words to translate a year. This would cost $6,000- 
$9,000 for a single organization at industry rates, but with NSF sup- 
port the production cost was reduced to 2.5 cents a page. That meant 
with 150-200 subscribers, you could cover the expense of translation; 
with 600 subscribers, you covered production; and with over 750, you 
would be turning a profit and could subsidize a new journal. 57 By 1956 
Soviet Physics JETP had grown to 700 annual subscribers, with 2,600 
pages of translated material distributed for the cost of translating 10-12 
pages — a real bargain. The NSF promptly agreed to support three new 
journals: Journal of Technical Physics, the physics section of the Proceed- 
ings of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. ( Doklady ), and the Jour- 
nal of Acoustics.™ The pump was now primed, and cover-to -cover ven- 
tures proliferated. As each title gained subscribers, the importance of 
the subsidy diminished and could be moved to start a new journal. The 
cycle repeated itself, and private firms started to join the gravy train. By 
1958, there were 54 cover-to-cover translations of Soviet journals, and 
85 in 1961. 59 (See figure 9.2.) Consider what was happening here: each 



Number of 

figure 9.2. Number of English cover-to-cover translation journals from 
Russian, from the inception in 1949 {Journal of General Chemistry of the USSR ) 
to 1961. Notice the rise after the AIP/NSF collaboration began in 1955. Boris I. 
Gorokhoff, Providing US. Scientists with Soviet Scientific Information , rev. ed. 
(Washington, DC: Publications Office of the National Science Foundation, 
1962), 15 - 

month a hefty tome would arrive at an office in the United States, be 
ripped apart, distributed, translated, edited, stitched back together, and 
printed, all within six months — and this was done for dozens of jour- 
nals, every month, for decades. It was the largest scientific translation 
project in the history of the world. 

It was also, in the eyes of some, an administrative and bibliographic 
disaster. The complaints were legion, encompassing every aspect of the 
enterprise and expressed both behind closed doors at the AIP and openly 
in the pages of science journals. Did cover-to-cover violate copyright? 
(Since the Soviet Union did not yet adhere to international copyright 
conventions, this concern was dismissed .) 60 The leaders at the AIP were 
also very worried about explicitly propagandistic articles in Soviet sci- 
ence journals. Should those be translated alongside the regular science ? 
Views ranged on both sides of the issue for years, but the AIP settled 
in the end for omitting such “non-scientific” pieces . 61 (This issue did 
not bother Coleman; Journal of General Chemistry of the USSR trans- 
lated, without comment, a congratulatory message to Joseph Stalin on 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


his seventieth birthday. 62 ) Lack of standardization bedeviled cover- to - 
cover enterprises, with at least fourteen different transliteration systems 
from Cyrillic, with different translators, editors, and journals rendering 
authors’ names differently, frustrating indexing and abstracting. 63 

Lite two most significant problems were the delay and the expense. 
Time-lags were inevitable, given that one had to wait for the Soviet jour- 
nal, translate it, and produce an entirely new issue. Robert Beyer noted 
in January 1957, after two years of experience, that his journal was “ap- 
pearing 7 months behind official publication date.” 64 Politics on both 
a micro and macro scale were partially responsible. In 1948, the Soviets 
temporarily held up all shipments of scientific journals to the United 
States because an ill-considered regulation required all foreign mail to 
be cleared through Foreign Minister Viacheslav Molotov’s office, gen- 
erating an incredible backlog. When journals arrived in America, on 
the other hand, the New York post office had been known to quaran- 
tine the material lest it contain dangerous propaganda. 65 Those hiccups 
were cleared (relatively) quickly, but they masked a deeper problem. 
The intrinsic delays in producing cover-to-cover journals and the va- 
garies of the Cold War meant that scientists who wanted their transla- 
tions right away continued to commission their own, which generated 
wasteful duplication and further taxed the limited corps of technical 
translators. 66 

Cost was even more serious. Soviet Physics JETP contained 1,500 
pages in 1955, which yielded a net price of $30 for an annual subscrip- 
tion (converting to an astonishingly low translation cost of 2 cents a 
page). By 1965, however, the Soviet original had bloated threefold, 
which meant the price had to skyrocket to $90 (not counting infla- 
tion) to break even, which in turn depressed demand. 67 And this was 
for the AIP’s flagship translation journal, with the greatest subsidy and 
the greatest reader demand. For more boutique periodicals, like Soviet 
Aeronautics , the cost of the cover-to-cover translation reached 28 times 
the price of the Russian-language original, and the average circulation 
of the journals was 200-300, well below break-even. 68 Eugene Garfield, 
the information scientist who pioneered the Science Citation Index and 
transformed scientific bibliography, was scathing about the practice — 
and the government’s intervention — in 1972, when cover-to-cover had 
taken over as America’s chief strategy for following Soviet science: 

Since the government did not allow the demonstrated needs of 

international scientific communication to impact the information 

26 o 


marketplace, the economic and other forces of natural selection were 
not allowed to operate. As a result, government fiat has produced a 
monster that continues to plague libraries, science administrators, 
and, in the final analysis, the taxpayers who feed the monster. Many 
research libraries feel forced to buy both Russian and English edi- 
tions of leading Soviet journals, even though the latter generally ap- 
pear six months to a year after the original. Those libraries which ob- 
tain only the translated version often find they are not used as often 
as expected. Bibliographically, the situation is a horror . 69 

In effect, in attempting to read Soviet science, the Americans had rep- 
licated the most inefficient features of the Soviet science system. Being 
journals, cover-to-cover fit into libraries’ conventional purchasing pat- 
terns (unlike translation pools), yet produced bloated budgets and 
overcrowded libraries without helping anyone locate information, and 
so added to the glut. 0 The language barrier had been swapped for in- 
formation overload, on a one-to-one basis. The journals were in English, 
but no one had time to read them. 

Exit Machine 

The woes of cover-to-cover translation began to impinge on the other 
hope for transcending the language barrier: machine translation. Recall 
that when Teon Dostert organized his program around a corpus of texts 
in organic chemistry, he selected the Journal of General Chemistry of the 
USSR, so that he could use this ready bilingual corpus to keypunch in 
terms and work out grammar algorithms. Cover-to-cover would work 
hand-in-glove with MT, obviating the need to develop translations from 
scratch. Or so he thought. Dostert quickly learned that the “English- 
language version was found to be inadequate for machine translation 
purposes and two persons were assigned the task of preparing a stan- 
dardized translation which would be free of stylistic idiosyncrasies and 
as consistent as possible .” 71 Precisely because the Journalwzs translated 
by teams of different people, syntactic and lexical correspondences were 
not standardized, which was what machines demanded. 

Soon, dissidents emerged within the heart of the community, armed 
with trenchant critiques that threatened to topple the fundamental as- 
sumptions of the entire project. By far the most powerful assault came 
from none other than Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, the Israeli philosopher who 

All the Russian That’s Fit to Print 


had convened the first MT conference at MIT back in 1952. In 1958, Bar- 
Hillel undertook a tour of all the major Western MT institutes — with 
especial attention to Georgetown, for “[tjhere exists no other group in 
the United States, or in England for that matter, which has been work- 
ing on such a broad front” — finding an industry with between 200 and 
250 people working full time with an annual outlay of roughly $3 mil- 
lion. Six years earlier, there had been the equivalent of about three full- 
time researchers with a total budget of $10,000, and the only individual 
working exclusively on MT had been himself. In i960 he published a 
revised version of his working paper about this tour, incorporating his 
findings from Western accounts of Soviet research, and he came to the 
conclusion that “fully automatic, high-quality translation (FAHQT),” 
the stated goal of most research programs, was impossible, “not only 
in the near future but altogether.” Language could not be reduced to 
algorithmic rules, because humans constantly imported context with 
serious semantic implications. His chief example, which soon became 
canonical, was the difference between “The box is in the pen” and “The 
pen is in the box.” We intuitively know that the term “pen” in the first 
sentence probably is a place with animals, and in the latter might be a 
writing implement; in both instances, we apply our contextual knowl- 
edge of relative size — something a computer could not do. He did not 
spare scientific language: “Fully automatic, high quality translation is 
not a reasonable goal, not even for scientific texts.” ' 2 To tell the truth, 
Bar-Hillel had said something similar as far back as 1953 (“Fully auto- 
matic high- accuracy translation seems out of the question in the near 
future. [. . .] Therefore, either the high accuracy or the complete auto- 
matic character of the translation process must be sacrificed” ) , and even 
in 1951 had insisted that “high- accuracy, fully automatic MT is not 
achievable in the foreseeable future .” 73 But now, patrons were listening. 

Hints of a coming storm emerged in May i960, when Congress sum- 
moned Dostert for testimony in a series of hearings on MT. In Sep- 
tember 1959, Dostert had resigned as director of the Institute of Lan- 
guages and Linguistics so he could devote all of his time to machine 
translation. In short order, he had an operational system: Georgetown 
Automatic Translation (GAT). In 1964, Georgetown delivered GAT, 
designed for the IBM 7090 to translate Russian into English, to the 
US Atomic Energy Commission and to EURATOM. EURATOM 
kept using it until 1976, when it was replaced by SYSTRAN, while the 
Americans maintained GAT until at least 1979. The MT community 



tended to be rather acerbic about the system; one later analyst com- 
plained that “ [tjhere was no true linguistic theory underlying the GAT 
design; and, given the state of the art in computer science, there was 
no underlying computational theory either .” 74 GAT’s output still re- 
quired post-editing by a subject specialist, although not necessarily one 
with knowledge of Russian. Yet its end-users were happy about what 
they got: 92% of users at Oak Ridge and Ispra considered the results 
“good” or “acceptable,” and 96% said they would recommend MT to a 
colleague . 75 

Nonetheless, Congress wanted to know what happened to the 
miracle machine. Dostert marched across town with his team in tow 
and dazzled the Congressional subcommittee with tales of progress, 
as well as another demonstration — a spot-translation of a random 
chemical text — which the system mostly passed (though it took the 
evaluator four times as long to read the translation as an equivalent 
English-language text). 76 Dostert had other aces in the hole: two of the 
Representatives examining him were Georgetown alumni, and one had 
been his own student. 77 (He always did work best through personal 
connections.) Dostert secured only a temporary reprieve. Three years 
later, in 1963, the CIA withdrew all funds from Georgetown’s MT pro- 
gram, and that same year Dostert left Georgetown for his other alma 
mater, Occidental College in Los Angeles. 78 He continued to lobby 
for MT, however, and in 1963 — perhaps implicitly responding to Bar- 
Hillel’s critique — he opined: “We should accept the fact that ‘perfect’ 
translation is neither humanly nor mechanically achievable. [. . .] What 
then should we aim for?” 79 

An answer was forthcoming, but it was not what Dostert hoped for. 
In April 1964, Leland Haworth, director of the NSF, requested the Na- 
tional Academy of Sciences to assemble an Automatic Languages Pro- 
cessing Advisory Committee (ALPAC) “to advise the Department of 
Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Science 
Foundation on research and development in the general field of me- 
chanical translation of foreign languages.” Chaired by John R. Pierce 
of Bell Laboratories and composed of leading specialists in computer 
science, linguistics, and even MT (Anthony Oettinger was a member), 
ALPAC searched through the various funded MT programs looking 
for progress and efficiency. It concluded that it would be more eco- 
nomical to have specialists invest the short amount of time to come up 
to speed in Russian. When that failed, commissioning specific transla- 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


tions was cost-eftective, and America’s stable of translators was more 
than adequate to the task. “There is no emergency in the field of transla- 
tion,” they insisted. “The problem is not to meet some nonexistent need 
through nonexistent machine translation.” 

The prime evidence for the “nonexistence” of MT was, ironically, the 
very success of the Georgetown-IBM experiment. After providing ex- 
amples of three translations by different systems of a single Russian pas- 
sage, all of which were execrable, the report observed that “[t]he reader 
will find it instructive to compare the samples above with the results ob- 
tained on simple, or selected, text 10 years earlier (the Georgetown IBM 
Experiment, January 7, 1954) in that the earlier samples are more read- 
able than the later ones.” The problem with the Georgetown sentences 
was that they were too good : “Early machine translations of simple or 
selected text, such as those given above, were as deceptively encourag- 
ing as ‘machine translations’ of general scientific text have been uni- 
formly discouraging.” 80 Notice the word “deceptively.” Dostert’s very 
showmanship had sown the seeds of the collapse. 

And collapse it was; seven years after the report’s publication in 1966, 
a survey of the field depicted a wasteland — two years later, the three re- 
maining government-funded MT centers had closed shop . 81 In 1965, 
the Association of Machine Translation and Computational Linguis- 
tics took over the journal MT, adding and Computational Linguistics 
to its title; three years later, it removed “Machine Translation” from its 
own name, and closed the journal down in 1970. 82 The ripples spread 
across the Iron Curtain as well, as one of the leading researchers of MT 
in the Soviet Union recalled: 

The effect of the ALPAC report in 1966 was as great in the Soviet 
Union as in the United States. Many projects were not funded any 
more; machine translation went into decline. The authorities had 
seen the ALPAC documents and concluded that if the Americans 
did not think it worthwhile to support MT, if they did not think 
there was any hope of MT, then nor should we. 83 

The Soviets and the Americans had goaded each other to invest more 
in machine translation, and now they would suffer the drought equally. 
MT as a field would not really recover until the 1980s. Leon Dostert 
would not live to see it. He died suddenly on 1 September 1971, at a con- 
ference in Bucharest, Romania. 




Meanwhile, Earl Coleman was having a very good decade. Consul- 
tants Bureau seemed to effortlessly toss off new journals. By 1956, it was 
easily the biggest producer of cover-to-cover publications in science. 
Meanwhile, Robert Beyer, the editor of Soviet Physics JETP, was over- 
whelmed with the rapidly expanding Soviet journal. He consulted with 
AIP director Elmer Hutchisson about subcontracting some of their own 
journals to Coleman’s outfit. 84 Rumors abounded that the translators 
for Consultants Bureau were incensed at their low pay, but the AIP de- 
cided that a limited partnership might be worth doing. After all, rea- 
soned Wallace Waterfall, “the Colemans will undoubtedly do the best 
possible job for us in order to enhance their own reputations.” 85 The AIP 
farmed out three journals to Coleman, and soon the publisher had 45 
full-time employees and translators in the United States, Canada, En- 
gland, Puerto Rico, and India. In 1958, he became the first Western pub- 
lisher to offer a royalty to the Soviets for the privilege of translating their 
science, thus gaining exclusive Western rights (and preempting British 
publishing mogul Robert Maxwell from horning in on his territory). 86 

The partnership between the professional society (and its state back- 
ers) and the private publishing firm was not always smooth. In 1965, 
Coleman accused Beyer “with vigor and irritation about AIP ruining 
the translation field — first by paying its translators too much, and sec- 
ond, by getting out too elegant a translation journal.” 87 Eventually his 
feathers returned to their customary unruffled state, and translators 
continued to be impoverished by Coleman’s logic of compensation. In 
1966, the AIP abandoned their fledgling efforts at a Chinese cover-to- 
cover journal, reasoning that Coleman would probably pick it up, and 
by 1968 Coleman began producing all the AIP’s journals. 88 By 1970, 
the renamed Plenum Publishing Corporation continued to tower over 
the competition. It produced 72 journals, comprising 75,000 pages of 
text a year — 62 of these journals were independent, eight for the AIP, 
and others for the American Mathematical Society and the American 
Society of Civil Engineers. The nearest competitor was Faraday Press 
in New York City, with 29, followed by Scientific Information Consul- 
tants in London, with nine. Coleman controlled well over half of the 
cover-to-cover market. 89 

And that market was poised to take over the world, literally. One 
has to be careful when estimating the global reach of cover-to-cover 
translation, for certain features of the industry were peculiarly Ameri- 

All the Russian That's Fit to Print 


can. Of the 162 such journals — still only a tiny fraction of the estimated 
1,600 to 4,000 Soviet scientific periodicals — published in 1968, some 
85% were produced by the Americans. The rest but two were British 
(the exceptions were a Canadian journal on the Arctic, Problems of the 
North, and the lone non-English journal, the French Prospection et pro- 
tection du sous-sol, on geology). 90 Through the NSF, the American state 
backed, at least in part, 45 separate ventures in i960 alone. 91 

But despite the obviously American features of both MT and cover- 
to-cover translation — the mounds of Cold War money, the insistent 
focus on Soviet science, the overwhelming emphasis on English — the 
latter venture proved durable in large part because of factors outside the 
United States. In 1954, Frances Coleman explained that if the Journal of 
General Chemistry of the USSR had been forced to rely only on domes- 
tic markets, it would never have survived. “ [B]ut then subscriptions and 
inquiries began to trickle in from Holland, France, India, Japan, and 
elsewhere. We realized that these translations would serve a purpose — 
and have a market — not only in English-speaking countries as we had 
envisaged, but also in any country where there were chemists who could 
not read Russian and could read English,” she noted. “At the end of our 
first year more than half of our subscriptions were going to non-English 
speaking countries.” 92 The same year as the Georgetown-IBM experi- 
ment, Consultants Bureau sent the journal to seventeen different coun- 
tries, representing eleven different native languages. The AIP found the 
same: by 1965 one-third of subscriptions came from outside the United 
States. 93 

This was a consequential difference from MT. That project, how- 
ever international, focused entirely on the production of texts. Cover- 
to-cover, as befit its roots in the private sector, was from the begin- 
ning worried about generating consumer demand for their product. 
MT’s dependence on state support meant that when ALPAC gave the 
granting agencies an excuse to pull the plug, there was nothing to fall 
back on. Leon Dostert’s dream of transcending Scientific Babel purely 
through linguistic means, without attention to the quantity of infor- 
mation or access, foundered. Meanwhile, translation journals spread 
abroad. If you were a scientist in Pakistan, or Italy, or Brazil, you had 
to follow both American and Soviet science. Instead of learning two 
languages, the Americans had made it possible to get by entirely on En- 
glish, and so it became more and more prevalent as the default language 
of science — not instead of learning about what the Soviets were doing, 
but as a means of learning what the Soviets were doing. 



Interestingly, such an outcome was foreshadowed in the foundational 
text of American science policy, Vannevar Bush’s Science: The Endless 
Frontier (1945). Discussing translations of Russian into English, the text 
noted that “[sjince such work would benefit not only science generally 
in the United States but would very likely promote the use of English in 
other countries, it seems proper to recommend that the United States 
Government consider methods by which the cost of such work could 
be met.” 94 In the aftermath of the Second World War, a series of deci- 
sions about confronting the challenge posed by Soviet science began to 
overwhelmingly tip the balance toward a global monopoly of English 
as a language of science. Nowhere was this more visible than on the 
Cold War battleground between the Soviets and the Americans, the 
land whose language used to dominate scientific publications in seem- 
ingly every field: Germany. 


The Fe Curtain 

Auch zwischen Volks- und Sprachgenossen stehen Schranken, die eine 
voile Mitteilung und ein voiles gegenseitiges Verstehen verhindern, 
Schranken der Bildung, der Erziehung, der Begabung, der Individu- 



It was May 1945, and Germany was broken again. After the Peace of 
Westphalia ended the religious wars in 1648, the German-speaking 
principalities that made up the Holy Roman Empire were fragmented 
to create buffer states throughout the middle of the European conti- 
nent, and ever since the arrow of history seemed to point toward greater 
and greater unification. First Prussia swallowed up smaller duchies and 
kingdoms to grow to a point where it could, by the 1860s, challenge 
the political focus of the German regions: Vienna, seat of the Habs- 
burg Empire. And then in 1871 most of the German-speaking lands uni- 
fied into the Kaisserreich, a new continental empire to compete with 
Austria-Hungary, inducing consternation in the French and British. In 
1938, Austria was incorporated into a terrifying German Third Reich, 
spreading a lot more than consternation much farther afield. Now that 
was all over; Austria was independent and Germany was broken — but 
no one was yet sure into how many parts. 

There were, formally, two possibilities, one or four, but informally — 
and soon quite forcibly — the answer was definitely two. Technically, 
Germany had surrendered to the Allies, who governed the occupied 
country under a council of the four powers: the United States, the 
Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and France. Each of those coun- 

* “Barriers also stand between national and linguistic peers that prevent full commu- 
nication and full mutual understanding, barriers of education, of upbringing, of tal- 
ent, of individuality.” 



tries also controlled a separate zone (the French zone was carved out 
of the British one as a gesture toward European comity). Hence, the 
occupied zones became instantly polyglot, and there was a nationwide 
boom in German-English, German-French, and German-Russian dic- 
tionaries immediately after surrender. 2 For the occupying powers, com- 
municating with each other remained fraught, especially between the 
Americans and the Soviets. Very few Americans knew Russian, and 
vice versa; communicating through a third language like German was 
scarcely more successful. 3 

Yet communication was essential for any kind of postwar settle- 
ment. Consider the Soviets, who set up their proxy government, the 
Soviet Military Administration of Germany (SVAG), on 6 June 1945 
under Marshal Georgii Zhukov. Zhukov, both directly and through 
his deputies Colonels V. D. Sokolovskii and I. A. Serov, commanded 

8.000 Soviet troops at their headquarters in Potsdam to the southwest 
of Berlin, supplemented by 273,000 infantry troops distributed over 
the entire Soviet Zone, 29,000 air force personnel, 2,700 naval troops, 

20.000 special SVAG troops, and 20,000 foot soldiers of the MVD (the 
security services). 4 These were facts on the ground of the Soviet Zone, 
and at the center of that ground was the city of Berlin, split into four 
sectors as a microcosm of defeated Germany. One of the central con- 
cerns for the three Western powers, but especially for the Americans, 
was negotiating access to Berlin, which the Soviets restricted to a single 
highway and railway line, arguing that Soviet demobilization consumed 
the remaining transit points. 5 This soon became a perpetual source of 
conflict, triggering the Soviet closure of access to Berlin on 24 June 1948 
and the subsequent Anglo-American airlift to supply the Western zones 
of the city with food and fuel. The Berlin Blockade was the most evi- 
dent act that signaled that Germany was to become two nations: the 
Federal Republic of Germany in the West, and the German Democratic 
Republic in the East, each under the sway of the United States and the 
Soviet Union, respectively. Divided Berlin would become the capital of 
the Cold War, marked in 1961 by the erection of the eponymous Wall 
as literalization of the “Iron Curtain” posited by Winston Churchill in 
March 1946. 

In the early summer of 1945, when plans for governing Germany in 
the short term were drawn up, that conflict lay in the future. It will come 
as no surprise after the previous two chapters that both Americans and 
Soviets governed their zones through their native tongues. Dealings in 
American and British offices tended to be conducted almost entirely in 

The Fe Curtain 


English (except for a few officers who happened to speak German flu- 
ently before arriving in-country), not so much because of the ban on 
fraternization (rescinded, anyway, on 14 July 1945), but more because 
of social and economic segregation coupled with the intense hostility of 
some Americans toward the Germans for the Nazi rampage, mirrored 
by German resentment of occupation. 6 

SVAG also governed mostly monolingually in practice, although 
there was substantial official discomfort about the fact. SVAG leader- 
ship tried repeatedly to force officers to learn German and just as often 
failed. In March 1946, an order mandating German study was promul- 
gated and rapidly ignored; out of thirty officers signed up for courses 
in Magdeburg, no more than a third actually came to class. Many of the 
Soviets who arrived already speaking German labored under a double 
burden: they were predominantly Jewish, and they often acquired Ger- 
man girlfriends (surely related to their linguistic capacities). As an anti- 
cosmopolitan campaign unfolded in Stalin’s Moscow in mid-1948, fear 
of Jewish treason and spying led to the recall of many of these officers, 
purging the one set of officials on the ground who could actually speak 
to the locals. This was followed by more orders for German study, and 
more stonewalling.' 

If Germany’s politics were linguistically and politically fragmented, 
many Germans feared the state of science was even worse: there was 
nothing to fragment, for science was destroyed. Local German scien- 
tists had difficulty assessing the state of affairs because zonal barriers 
and censorship blocked both travel and mails, and scientific publish- 
ing had almost collapsed (exacerbated by a postwar paper shortage). 8 
A foreign observer writing in the Physikalische Blatter, one of the new 
periodicals that managed to bloom amidst the rubble, painted a picture 
of dire need. “In addition there is the most severe lack of all scientific 
educational and research material,” R. C. Evans wrote. “Books are not 
to be had, the appearance of scientific journals has been stopped, the re- 
curring needs of a laboratory — reagents, apparatus, and everything else, 
even the simplest material — are almost unattainable, especially if deliv- 
ery must be obtained from another Zone; the difficulties could not be 
greater if everything had to be obtained from abroad.” * 9 Aside from the 

*“Dazu kommt der scharfste Mangel an allem wissenschaftlichen Unterrichts- und 
Forschungsmaterial. Bucher sind nicht zu haben, wissenschaftliche Zeitschriften 
haben ihr Erscheinen eingestellt, Reagenzien, Apparate und jedes andere, auch das 
einfachste Material, der laufende Bedarf des Laboratoriums ist fast unerreichbar, 



pockmarked landscape of destruction and massive displacements occa- 
sioned by the end of the war, several of the wartime leaders of German 
science were sitting in Allied detention pending adjudication of respon- 
sibility for war crimes. The landscape of German science began to shift; 
in the West, leafy Gottingen came to displace tense Berlin as the center 
of physics, for example. Adjusting to the postwar world entailed mas- 
sive psychological and physical difficulties. 10 

Could German science recover? Part of the answer hinged on 
whether German as a language of science could survive the shocks of 
occupation. In 1951, American experts on Soviet bibliography observed 
that “[t]he influence of German science on Russian research in organic 
chemistry went down from 59 per cent at the beginning of the industri- 
alization [late 1920s] to 30-36 per cent for the present time. The Russian 
chemist now uses his own literature at least as much as the German.” 11 
In the Soviet Union, the collapse ofknowledge of the German language 
occasioned by the advent of the war was so severe that postwar analysts 
had to discard all statistics about the number of actual speakers and 
piece together the status quo from guesswork. 12 Meanwhile, the emerg- 
ing United Nations Organization recognized five official languages — 
Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish (Arabic was added in 
073) — noticeably leaving German behind. That seemed reasonable, 
for Germany was defeated and would not function as an architect of 
the postwar world order. But when the United Nations Educational, 
Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) permitted Italian a 
limited status and Hindi an official one but explicitly denied any status 
to German — the language of great educational, scientific, and cultural 
achievements — it was hard to view this as anything other than punish- 
ment by the victorious powers. 13 

While the position of Germany as a country, let alone as a world 
power, was decidedly gloomy, many German scientists thought they 
might retain some cultural power for the German language through 
the reconstruction of German science. That science was rebuilt from 
the Nazi remnants not once but twice: into a West German science 
under an increasingly Americanizing (and Anglophone) Western scien- 
tific establishment; and into an East German variant that bore numer- 
ous stamps of its Soviet patron and that patron’s language. The chapter 

besonders wenn die Lieferung aus einer anderen Zone erfolgen mufi; die Schwie- 
rigkeiten konnten nicht grower sein, wenn alles aus dem Ausland bezogen werden 

The Fe Curtain 


that follows explores the development of Cold War science outside of 
the metropoles of the United States and the Soviet Union, chronicling 
the persistent decline of German as a language of science despite many 
heroic efforts to salvage it. In the wake of enormous infrastructural and 
political changes, the long and tumultuous story of scientific German 
appeared to be coming to a close. 

Denazifying the (Mostly Western) Zone 

The major mechanism of linguistic transformation throughout this 
book has been education, and occupied Germany was no different, 
though there the educational inflections were strongly colored by the 
unique imperatives of the denazification policy of both the Western 
Allies and the Soviet Union. 14 Education was a salient instance of the 
more general postwar reconstruction of science in the image of each 
superpower. The Americans were deeply invested in building a “West- 
ern” science in Europe that was strongly allied with the United States 
and also predominantly Anglophone. Marshall Plan aid for science, for 
example, was directly tied to the reorientation of the French infrastruc- 
ture away from hypercentralization in Paris toward the provinces, and 
generally toward greater publication in English, while Columbia Uni- 
versity physicist 1 . 1 . Rabi, a trusted science advisor, lobbied for incorpo- 
rating science from nascent “West Germany” into collaborations with 
nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 15 

In order to accomplish Rabi’s goals, one needed German scientists. 
The problem, of course, was reconciling the desire to have America- 
friendly scholars in the universities when those very institutions had 
been integrated into the Nazi infrastructure, staffed with party mem- 
bers who should at the very least be dismissed from their positions, 
if not tried for war crimes. (Of course some specialists, most notably 
rocketry engineers, were “pilfered” by both the Soviets and Americans.) 
The impact of denazification was massive, leading to twice as many dis- 
missals as had Hitler’s 1933 Civil Service Law, for the straightforward 
reason that there were many more Nazi party members in higher edu- 
cation at the end of the war than there had been Jews in such positions 
at the dawn of the Third Reich. The University of Heidelberg fired 72 
instructors, Frankfurt 33, diminutive Erlangen 30 (representing a full 
27% of its teaching staff), and so on down the line. 16 The six remain- 
ing major universities in the Soviet Zone — after two universities, Bres- 
lau and Konigsberg, were ceded to Poland as Wroclaw and the Soviet 



Union as Kaliningrad, respectively — lost about 75% of their professo- 
riate and roughly 80% of the adjunct teaching staff, a situation that was 
particularly aggravated in Berlin where many “clean” academics simply 
decamped for the West. Over 85% of the faculty who were relieved of 
their jobs never returned to higher education in the Soviet East. 17 

Reopening the universities was urgent, not only to return to a sem- 
blance of normality, but also to train cadres who could rebuild the future 
Germany (or, one should say, German*#). The remedies in the Western 
zones were highly varied owing to the reconstruction of the American, 
British, and French zones as a federal republic, with education a func- 
tion allocated to the various states {Lander, in German) to resolve as 
each saw fit. 18 The French, for example, recognizing their inability to 
compete with the Americans politically or economically, emphasized 
the benignity of their occupation by focusing on “culture,” rapidly re- 
constructing the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. 19 
The rector of Gottingen University after the war estimated that of the 
sixteen universities and eight Technische Hochschulen (higher techni- 
cal schools) in the Western zones, only six were relatively unharmed, six 
could use 50% of their facilities, and the remaining eight were reduced 
to 25%~30% of their prewar infrastructure. (Munster, for example, was 
80% destroyed, Munich 70%, and Wurzburg 80%. ) The British, in the 
north, were faced with perhaps the greatest devastation, since the indus- 
trial Ruhr area had suffered countless bombing runs; nonetheless, they 
opened all their universities by the end of 1945, beginning with un- 
scathed Gottingen on 17 September and concluding with Koln on 12 
December. 20 

West Berlin represented a unique case; its encirclement by the Soviet 
Zone promoted a greater degree of autonomy, leading to the most 
thorough overhaul of the wartime and prewar educational system. 21 The 
crown jewel of these efforts was the establishment in December 1948, 
in the midst of the Blockade, of the Freie Universitat zu Berlin (the 
Free University in Berlin) in Dahlem, a tree-lined, somnolent neighbor- 
hood that lay right in the center of the American sector and had long 
been home to an elite scientific tradition. (Fission had been discovered 
there, for example, in 1938, and Fritz Haber’s Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute 
for Physical Chemistry was nearby.) The Free University was largely a 
German-organized and German-run affair, and its linguistic emphasis 
was strongly German. When, after a few years, foreign students trick- 
led in, they were required to take two semesters of German, and almost 
all instruction took place in that language. 22 Graduate students were 

The Fe Curtain 


admonished that “the dissertation must be written clearly and in good 
German.”*' 23 Visiting scholars in the 1950s, on the other hand, lectured 
in a range of tongues — a Spanish art historian speaking in Spanish, and 
many in the humanities lecturing in English. The Natural Sciences Fac- 
ulty, however, entertained almost exclusively talks in German, prefer- 
entially hosting Germanophone Swedes and Americans (many of them 
emigres). American policy complemented the mostly grassroots Ger- 
man effort. Instead of deputing American professors to teach in Ger- 
many for short periods, preference was given for cycling German stu- 
dents to the United States for study, an ironic inversion of the interwar 
postdoctoral network that had been ruptured by Nazi protocols. 24 

Scientists active in occupied Germany recognized that the transfor- 
mations in their country — and especially the emerging split between 
a communist East and a capitalist West — was beyond their control: 
“We are able to change nothing about this, and our journal [the Physi- 
kalische Blatter ], that counts the cohesion and connection of German 
physicists as its noblest tasks, is entirely helpless against this develop- 
ment.” 125 In fall 1946, British authorities allowed the formation at Got- 
tingen of a renewed German Physical Society — die Deutsche Physi- 
kalische Gesellschaft in der Britischen Zone. Max von Laue, as one of 
the “good Germans” who stayed within the Third Reich but did not 
collaborate with the regime, was made its president, while Otto Hahn 
was tapped for president of the Max Planck Society, the successor to 
the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Both Hahn and von Laue worked within 
a West German context, and were — to the frustration of the occupy- 
ing authorities — substantially less interested in punishing past political 
“mistakes” than in reestablishing a scientific community. 26 Other post- 
World War I institutions were adapted to this new, constrained Ger- 
many. The Notgemeinschaft was eventually transformed into the Ger- 
man Research Society (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), as a way of 
providing federal money for research without working through insti- 
tutions compromised by Nazi affiliations. 27 Finally, new publications, 
like the Physikalische Blatter and the Zeitschrift fur Naturforschung , 
leapt into the breach opened up by the delay in approving the denazi- 
fied continuations of stalwart German journals such as the Annalen der 

*“Die Dissertation mu£ klar und in gutem Deutsch geschrieben sein.” 

*“Wir vermogen nichts daran zu andern, und unsere Zeitschrift, die den Zusammen- 
halt und die Verbindung der deutschen Physiker zu ihren vornehmsten Aufgaben 
zahlt, ist gegeniiber dieser Entwicklung vollig hilflos.” 



Physik and Zeitschrift fur Physik. 1 * West German science lost much of 
its international character. Foreign attendance at meetings of the Ger- 
man Physical Society, for example, began to drop oft in 1950. 29 These 
were now meetings in German and for Germans — well, one half of the 

Stalinizing (Sort of) the East 

The year of the Blockade, 1948, not only marked the onset of the rapid 
differentiation of institutions that would make West Germany charac- 
teristically “Western,” but also unsurprisingly represented the fulcrum 
whereupon East Germany pivoted toward Stalinization. The German 
Democratic Republic was crucial to Soviet designs for consolidation: it 
was a non-Slavic gateway to the West, a showcase for socialist progress, 
and an industrial engine that — after suitable reparations were bled out 
of the Nazi rubble — could power the communist future. 30 It was also 
the postwar satellite state that had the longest-standing educational 
infrastructure, and therefore first SVAG and later the Socialist Unity 
Party (SED) — the communist party that ran East Germany until its 
collapse — instituted more widespread changes into higher education 
there than anywhere else in the Warsaw Pact. 31 By way of contrast, the 
chemical industry retained enormous continuities with its National So- 
cialist predecessor. 32 

The general model was to make East German higher education 
look like Soviet higher education, which had undergone its own Bol- 
shevik transformation in the 1920s. 33 The consequences in East Ger- 
many, after adjusting to the tremendous personnel purges of denazifi- 
cation and simple outmigration, were remarkable indeed. From 1951 
to 1955, there was a 463% rise in enrollments in the technical sciences 
in German higher education. (Lest one consider that simply an adjust- 
ment to postoccupation stability, the equivalent for the humanities was 
only 112%. ) 34 The Prussian Academy of Sciences was also entirely re- 
fashioned, shifting from an all-German honorific institution to a fully 
socialist research academy by 1969. In part to counter the visible suc- 
cess of the Free University, the Academy and the University of Berlin — 
renamed Humboldt University — were endowed with massive resources 
to promote research and collaboration with an eye toward technologi- 
cal applications and economic growth. Comprising only 131 staff mem- 
bers in 1946, the Academy’s payroll reached 12,923 by 1967, and almost 

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doubling again by the moment of collapse in 1989. 35 The East Germans 
also erected a parallel scientific publication infrastructure to counter- 
balance the torrent of periodicals and technical books emanating from 
West Germany: separate professional journals begin to appear in 1951, 
university journals the following year, and the year after that the ubiq- 
uitous Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften (German Publisher of the 
Sciences). 36 

The linguistic hiccups that had hampered SVAG’s operation did not 
magically disappear. Soviet officials neither knew much about German 
education nor understood the language, so almost all negotiations hap- 
pened in rudimentary pidgin. When Soviet experts came on lecture 
tours, even well into the 1950s, they spoke in Russian before uncompre- 
hending audiences; translators had to be rousted at the last minute. 37 
On the other hand, those East Germans who did master Russian could 
attain significant professional advancement. 38 There were, to be sure, 
some benefits to the stubborn insistence of East Germans on speaking 
German — it meant they could converse with West German colleagues, 
blossoming into a vital conduit for the thriving East German specialty 
of industrial espionage. 39 

Nonetheless, it simply would not do to have the Germans speaking 
German to the exclusion of everything else. Science, like communism, 
was international, and surely it would be to the advantage of citizens 
of the German Democratic Republic if they could access the tremen- 
dous contemporary advances in Soviet science. In the case of socialist 
friends, much like that of the capitalist enemies, the key to learning 
what the Soviets knew was learning their language. The Soviet leader- 
ship was particularly keen to encourage this ambition throughout its 
sphere of influence. Russian quickly became the first foreign language 
taught in Eastern Europe. In Hungary, for example, eight years of Rus- 
sian soon became compulsory and remained so until 1989. The same 
was true everywhere else, with the exception of Romania, where Rus- 
sian ceased to be obligatory in 1963; French returned to its traditional 
place in Romanian education, being preferred to Russian or English by 
60% of students . 40 

East Germany was more like Hungary than Romania, and like Hun- 
gary the obligation to study Russian did not imply actually learning it. 
As always, some did become enthusiastic about the language, as in this 
statement drawn from a proposal for a Russian- German dictionary in 



Russian is one of the leading world-languages. This fact is to be ex- 
plained through the role of the USSR as a world power and the pres- 
tige that it possesses thanks to its achievements and successes in the 
political, scientific, technical, economic, and cultural arenas as well 
as in the field of sports. The worldwide interest that is shown to the 
Russian language grows constantly. Russian is first of all the most 
important negotiating language of the socialist camp (COME- 
CON, Warsaw Pact, etc.). The Russian language is of an entirely par- 
ticular significance for the GDR. The necessity of knowing Russian 
arises for a great part of the population of the GDR objectively from 
the tight, constantly deepening cooperation and friendship with the 
Soviet Union.* 41 

Attempts to institute Russian-language pedagogy began with the occu- 
pation. SVAG established Slavic Departments in universities across the 
Soviet Zone, with the explicit aim of producing a team of ready transla- 
tors from Russian into German (not, generally, vice versa). Translation 
was also the goal of the Academy of Sciences, whose Institut fur Doku- 
mentation began churning out renderings of Russian technical treatises 
in dry German in 1954. 42 One needs translators only when knowledge 
of the language is lacking, and Russian did not seem to take (surely at 
least in part because some identified it as the language of invading occu- 
piers, and understood their own failure to assimilate it as a mark of resis- 
tance). Nonetheless, efforts to inculcate the language persisted. In 1958, 
the Academy of Sciences ran 22 courses with 215 participants; in 1962, 
it was supporting 37 courses with 370 students. 43 These were all indi- 
viduals within the Academy hierarchy, and who therefore had passed 
through higher education. That meant they should have already learned 
the language, since in 1951 it became obligatory in universities, swell- 
ing the rosters in Russian classes and generating administrative head- 

*“Russisch ist eine der fiihrenden Weltsprachen. Diese Tatsache ist durch die Rolle 
der UdSSR als Weltmacht und ihr Prestige zu erklaren, das sie dank ihrer Leistun- 
gen und Erfolge auf politischem, wissenschaftlichem, technischem, wirtschaftlichem 
und kulturellem Gebiet sowie im Bereich des Sports besitzt. Das weltweite Interesse, 
das der russischen Sprache entgegenbracht [sic] wird, steigt standig. Russisch ist vor 
allem die wichtigste Verhandlungssprache des sozialistischen Lagers (RGW, War- 
schauer Pakt usw.). Von ganz besonderer Bedeutung ist die russische Sprache fur die 
DDR. Die Notwendigkeit der Kenntnis der russischen Sprache ergibt sich fur groBe 
Teile der Bevolkerung der DDR objektiv aus der engen, sich standig vertiefenden Zu- 
sammenarbeit und Freundschaft mit der Sowjetunion.” 

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aches. 44 Yet it seems that Russian’s impact on the East was rather less 
significant than English’s on the West, in large part because English was 
also a high-prestige language in the GDR. 45 

In the archives of Humboldt University, the flagship of East German 
higher education, one can find numerous traces of the struggle to drill 
perfective verbs and instrumental cases into the heads of reluctant Teu- 
tons. In a policy statement of 1957, “foreign language” collapsed into 
“Russian language” instruction in the space of a breath: 

For modern specialist training the knowledge of at least two world- 
languages is indispensable. 

From the viewpoint of the national interests of the German 
people and of the further development and flourishing of German 
science, technology, and culture, knowledge of the Russian language 
is an absolute necessity for those training specialties at the universi- 
ties and higher schools. In the same way it is important in the inter- 
est of the development of German science, culture, and technology 
that the scientific, technical, and artistic disciplines assimilate the 
achievements of other peoples and acquire the knowledge of other 
world-languages.* 46 

As of 6 June of that year, instruction in Russian as well as another “ Welt- 
sprache” (here meaning English, French, Italian, or Spanish) was obliga- 
tory, although Russian was substantially emphasized. (One should not 
assume that the quality of instruction was particularly high. The archive 
is littered with complaints about the poor level of English teaching, 
for example. 47 ) These languages, however, were not to be learned at 
the expense of German. As at the Free University in the West, foreign 
students — in the case of the Humboldt mostly from the Eastern bloc — 
necessitated making explicit something that had been obvious since the 
eighteenth century: “German instruction is obligatory for such foreign 

*“Fiir die moderne fachwissenschaftliche Ausbildung ist die Kenntnis von minde- 
stens zwei Weltsprachen unerlaftlich. 

Vom Gesichtspunkt der nationalen Interessen des deutschen Volkes und der wei- 
teren Entwicklung und Bliite der deutschen Wissenschaft, Technik und Kultur ist die 
Kenntnis der russischen Sprache fur die an den Universitaten und Hochschulen aus- 
zubildenden Fachkrafte unbedingte Notwendigkeit. Ebenso ist es im Interesse der 
Entwicklung der deutschen Wissenschaft, Kultur und Technik wichtig, daft sich die 
wissenschaftlichen, technischen und kiinstlerischen Fachkrafte die Errungenschaften 
anderer Volker aneignen und Kenntnisse in anderen Weltsprachen erwerben.” 



students and will be taught in the first year of study with six hours per 
week, in the second year of study with four.”* 48 

In 1956 the Humboldt administration commissioned a poll of 
roughly 150 institutions and departments housed within its walls to see 
what the most important foreign languages for the various branches 
of science were, in hopes of allocating its resources accordingly. Even 
accounting for the biases in data collection and the obvious political 
skewing of the results, this poll provides a unique snapshot of scien- 
tific languages in Berlin — once the epicenter of European science — at 
the moment the decline of German could no longer be ignored. Of the 
100 responses returned, representing 87 disciplines, fully 6 4 selected 
English and 42 Russian as “absolutely [necessary]” ( unbedingt ) for mas- 
tery of the subject matter of the field. (The remaining numbers were 39 
Latin, 17 French, 11 Greek, and 7 Hebrew. One should keep in mind 
that the German Wissenschaft is a more copious term than “science,” 
and that several disciplines selected more than one language.) When 
asked which languages were also “desirable” ( wunschenswert ), another 
23 added English — bringing the number up to the full 87 — along with 
35 Russian and 55 French. A potpourri of other languages graced this 
other category, including Italian, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Norwe- 
gian, modern Greek, Polish, and Czech. The results were unequivocal: 
“In sum therefore the chief languages appear to he English 87 x, Russian 
78 x, French 72 x, Latin 61 x, Ancient Greek 15 x.” f 49 

When zeroing in on the Faculty of Mathematical and Natural Sci- 
ences, comprised of 17 disciplines, the picture was even more striking. 
English was required in every single department, Russian was required 
in eight and optional in the rest, and French and Latin trailed signifi- 
cantly (required in three and two departments, respectively). 50 Add- 
ing the fifteen disciplines in the medical faculty raised the figures for 
Latin (required in 13), but also boosted English (required in eight) at 
the expense of Russian (only two). 51 The most surprising feature of these 
numbers is the enthusiasm for Latin, backed even by the chemists. 

If German were going to survive as a language of science against the 
tropical storm of Russian or the hurricane of English, whether in the 

*“Der Deutschunterricht ist fur solche Auslandsstudenten obligatorisch und wird 
im ersten Studienjahr mit sechs, im zweiten Studienjahr mit vier Wochenstunden 

Insgesamt erscheinen also die Hauptsprachen Englisch 87 x, Russisch 78 x, Franzdsisch 
72 x, Latein 61 x, Altgriechisch 15 x.” 

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Proletarian East or the Bourgeois West, it was going to need a different 
strategy than simply business as usual. Unless, that is, the first-mover 
effect of having once been the dominant language of chemistry could be 
exploited to maintain a foothold for German among the world’s scien- 
tists. The solution might be to emphasize not cutting-edge contempo- 
rary research, but rather the much less glamorous domain of the stodgy 
reference work. 

Shackled by Abstracts 

No chemist has ever read the entire Chemisches Zentralblatt, but for 
well over a century not a single practicing chemist was able to conduct 
research without it. Founded in 1830, the Zentralblatt v/ as the oldest ab- 
stract journal in chemistry, offering summaries of what its editors con- 
sidered to be the most relevant chemical literature. In its very creation, 
the journal embodied a dominant anxiety of scholars since at least the 
Renaissance (and likely earlier): there was simply too much to read . 52 
Until 1907, when the American Chemical Society assumed control of 
Chemical Abstracts, there was no plausible competitor to the Zentral- 
blatt for controlling the torrents of chemical literature, and the Ameri- 
can outfit did not become the leading abstract journal until roughly 
World War II. Thus, the Zentralblatt tracks in miniature the rise and 
then eclipse of German chemistry, and of German as a scientific lan- 

When the Zentralblatt' s first editor, Gustav Theodor Fechner, de- 
cided to hang up his spurs in 1834, the journal included roughly 500 
abstracts on 950 pages — a hefty tome, true, but also rather wordy ab- 
stracts. The journal chewed up a series of editors in the middle years 
of the nineteenth century, and also shed the references to pharmacy 
included in its original title. In 1870, the year before the unification 
of Germany into a powerful nation-state, the format and typesetting 
were overhauled to account for the journal’s continued expansion. Be- 
tween 1886 and 1887, for example, the contents ballooned from 860 to 
1,580 pages, representing abstracts culled from 273 chemistry journals. 
In 1895, sixty-five years after its inception, the journal seemed too un- 
wieldy, too cowed by the mushrooming researches appearing in ever 
larger numbers (and numbers of languages) to be continued as a pri- 
vate business venture. The German Chemical Society agreed to bring 
the journal in-house, and that is where it stayed as the German polity 
itself underwent shock after shock. In 1929, in an article celebrating the 

28 o 


Zentralblatt' s centenary, the language barrier was singled out: “This ex- 
change will only succeed, even with the best intentions of all involved, if 
all of us in Germany, France, England, America, and in other countries 
devote more attention and industriousness to foreign languages.”* 53 
Before World War II, the journal had expanded again by almost 52%. 
German chemistry may have been largely cut off from the rest of the 
world during the Third Reich, but foreigners still followed the global 
literature through the Zentralblatt , edited by Maximilian Pfliicke in 
the Hofmann Haus in Berlin. In 1944, a bomb careened into the heart 
of the building, leaving only rubble. In 1945, the last volume of the 
Zentralblatt , already at the printers, appeared. Tire journal, like unified 
Germany, was dead. 

Like Germany, it would rise again, curiously schizophrenic. When 
the fog of the postwar settlement began to dissipate, officials and chem- 
ists looked about them and realized that the Zentralblatt had gone into 
abeyance. It had to be revived, declared a top official at the Academy of 
Sciences: “The reappearance of the Chemisches Zentralblatt is necessary 
if German chemical industry and research are to come up to speed.” f 54 
But how to do it? The Zentralblatt was a production of the German 
Chemical Society based in Berlin, but no one knew which occupying 
power controlled it. The Society’s headquarters had been located in 
what was, in 1947, the British Sector of the city, but the editorial offices 
had been whisked away to the American enclave of Dahlem at war’s 
end. The publisher, Verlag Chemie GmbH, had also once resided in the 
British Sector but had moved to the American because of war damage. 
It seemed as though the Americans were going to sponsor the Zentral- 
blatt . 55 

The Soviets — or, rather, German chemists in the Soviet Zone — 
begged to differ. Since the Academy of Sciences was in the Soviet Sec- 
tor and had on hand a group of former Zentralblatt collaborators, it 
began to put out the 116th volume in 1946, although licensing red tape 
held it up. In November 1946, the Americans granted Verlag Chemie 
the authority to publish the journal; the following year the Academy 
(under authorization from SVAG, issued on 1 July 1947) commissioned 

*“Dieser Austausch wird auch beim besten Willen aller Einsichtigen nur gelingen, 
wenn wir alle in Deutschland, Frankreich, England, Amerika und in den anderen 
Landern den Fremdsprachen mehr Aufmerksamkeit und FleiE zuwenden.” 

+ “Das Wiedererscheinen des Chemischen Zentralblattes ist notwendig, wenn die 
deutsche chemische Wissenschaft und Forschung in Gang kommen soil.” 

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its in-house Akademie Verlag to do the same. What had once been one 
unwieldy journal had now become two. “Until the resolution of the 
matter,” wrote Georg Kurt Schauer from Frankfurt am Main, solidly 
in the American Zone, to the administration of the Akademie Verlag 
in the East in October 1947, “which the allied command of the occu- 
pying powers has reserved for itself, the strange state will continue that 
one scientific journal will be published by two different publishers, with 
two different editorial boards and staffs of collaborators, with the same 
numbering of the volumes in the earlier traditional form.”* 56 

There was also a problem with Maximilian Pffiicke, editor of the peri- 
odical since 1923, who had joined the Nazi Party in 1933. Denazification 
officials sometimes went easy on individuals who joined for purely op- 
portunistic reasons, and Pfliicke might have earned an exemption had 
he been able to demonstrate the shallowness of his political conviction; 
unfortunately for him, “he was also actively occupied in a fascist sense 
during the Nazi regime .” t57 He could hold no public position — and 
editorship definitely qualified — in the Soviet Zone. But the emergence 
of the American Doppelgiinger softened opinions. “ [N] ow also upon the 
existence of a published ‘Chemisches Zentralblatt’ under an American 
license,” an official noted in 1948, “it seems to us especially important to 
allow Dr. Pfliicke to step in from outside in order to announce that our 
journal is the old classic ‘Chemisches Zentralblatt’ under the tried-and- 
true leadership of 35 years.” 5S Nazi or no, Pfliicke provided the sem- 
blance of continuity which might confute the Americans’ claims. 

The resolution might very well have resembled the macroscopic out- 
come: a seemingly permanent division between East and West, with 
parallel publications mirroring parallel societies. In the event, how- 
ever, the chemists and scientific publishers opted in 1949 for what had 
proven unworkable politically. There would be two Germanies, but one 

' “Bis zur Entscheidung des Falles, den die alliierte Kommandatur den Besatzung- 
smachten vorbehalten hat, besteht der seltsame Zustand weiter, dass eine wissen- 
schaftliche Zeitschrift von zwei verschiedenen Verlagen, mit zwei verschiedenen Re- 
daktionen und Mitarbeiterstaben, mit gleicher Bandzahl und Numerierung in der 
fruheren traditionellen Form herausgebracht wird.” 

*“hat sich auch wahrend des Nazi-Regimes aktiv im faschistischen Sinne betatigt.” 
*“jetzt auch auf das Bestehen eines unter amerikanischer Lizenz herauskommenden 
‘Chemischen Zentralblatts’ erscheint es uns als besonders wichtig, Herrn Dr. Pfliicke 
nach aussen hin in Erscheinung treten zu lassen, um so zu betonen, dass unsere Zeit- 
schrift das alte klassische ‘Chemische Zentralblatt’ unter der 35 Jahre bewahrten Lei- 
tung ist.” 



Zentralblatt. Hans Brockmann at Gottingen — an organic chemist who 
had also joined the Nazi Party in 1933 — and Erich Thilo of the Berlin 
Academy erected a joint Zentralblatt, to start appearing as of 1 January 
1950. The final compromise established Pfliicke as the head of the East- 
ern office, Eugen Klever as the head of the Western office, and Pfliicke 
as the editor-in-chief, the whole affair organized as a joint East-West 
production sponsored by the German Chemical Society, the Berlin 
Academy of Sciences, and the West German Academy of Sciences in 
Gottingen. (This at a time when West Germany refused to recognize 
that the German Democratic Republic even existed.) Immediately, 
Pfliicke and his collaborators tackled the enormous backlog that had 
accumulated, and sixteen supplementary volumes had to be prepared 
between 1950 and 1954 to clear the docket for business as usual. 59 By 
1966, the Berlin Academy proudly lauded the Chemisches Zentralblatt 
as its most important publication. 60 Three years later, it was dead. 

The cause of death was both too many languages and one language 
in particular. Chemists had worried about the mounting linguistic bur- 
den for decades, but by the mid-1950s even the stalwart Pfliicke won- 
dered whether one could maintain a monolingual abstracts journal in 
a polyglot world. True, the importance of German was buttressed for a 
few more years by the fact that chemists worldwide had to consult the 
Zentralblatt, but preserving that German character imposed huge costs. 
One had to either tame the languages through selective abstracting, or 
somehow defray the labor costs imposed by the gamut of 36 languages 
covered by the Zentralblatt . 61 

The problem with the one language, English, was obvious. Before 
World War II, a sizeable chunk of the world’s chemical output had been 
in German. Now that English was swamping something approaching 
65% of world publication in chemistry, the German labor force either 
had to be trained up in this one language, or Anglophone collabora- 
tors had to be brought on board — and it was hard enough to maintain 
the delicate balance of East and West German cooperation in the years 
before Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik (1969-1974) began to normalize re- 
lations between the Germanies. Tie American-run Chemical Abstracts 
faced the inverse of this situation, as the mounting tide of English made 
their job linguistically easier each year. In 1957, the Abstracts published 
24,600 entries, 41.3% more than the same year’s Zentralblatt . 62 Two 
years later, the seventy-year-old Pfliicke retired, and Heinrich Bertsch 
and Wilhelm Klemm attempted to bail out the ship. They succeeded 
for one more decade. By the 1980s, the infrastructure that had been 

The Fe Curtain 


dedicated to putting out the titanic abstract journal was folded into an 
input service for Chemical Abstracts and a fee-for-service bibliographic 
resource for industry . 63 If reference works were the best hope to staunch 
the hemorrhaging of chemical German, the East-West joint venture was 
not going to get the job done. The West Germans would have to save 
German on their own. 

The Beilstein Gambit 

In a wide variety of contexts, West Germany assumed the burdens of 
prewar Germany. The role of economic juggernaut, the center of intel- 
lectual political culture, the guilt and shame of the Holocaust — the 
Federal Republic of Germany shouldered these as it embarked on the 
economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder , of the 1950s. While English 
began to assume an ever greater role in internal education within West 
Germany, the government attempted to keep some distance from the 
Americans driving the development. If English had to be taught, it 
was going to be British English, and Bonn also continued an assiduous 
program of promoting the German language abroad that had started 
with the nineteenth-century KaiserreichT Russian was a significantly 
smaller concern, although no scientifically active country could com- 
pletely ignore the language. The West Germans followed the American 
cover-to -cover journals closely, and also set up some translation ven- 
tures and review journals of their own to render Soviet achievements 
legible on the near side of the Iron Curtain. 65 When West Germans 
thought about preserving German as a language of science, the enemy 
was English, and the home of scientific English was now the United 

The makers of West German science policy undertook two major 
campaigns to preserve the importance of their country as a scientific 
metropole and, consequently, their language as an essential mode of 
communication: one centered on personnel, and one on publication. 
Today, the problem with personnel would be called “brain drain,” but 
no one labeled it that in the 1950s. In truth, it was not a new phenome- 
non, but rather a continuation of the bleeding that had begun with the 
economic crises of the 1920s and the 1933 Civil Service Law. German 
scientists were leaving Central Europe and heading to sunnier climes, 
principally the United States; afterward, they tended to speak and 
publish in English. The German Research Council estimated that be- 
tween 1950 and 1967, about 1,400 scientists were lost from West Ger- 



many through outmigration. 66 Internal estimates by the Max Planck 
Society — the leading research establishment in the country — were even 
graver: between 1957 and 1964, it counted 973 natural scientists out 
of a total of 3,400 scientists and engineers who had emigrated to the 
United States alone. 67 It seemed, however, that by 1968 the flow out had 
been balanced by economic emigres returning to assume jobs within 
the Federal Republic. 68 This was the result of an active plan to recruit 
emigres whenever high-level posts became available, securing the best 
and brightest for German science. 69 

That, however, would only preserve German-speaking science for 
German speakers. How might one persuade foreign scientists to learn 
the language? The obvious answer, to those at the Max Planck Society, 
was to follow what had convinced past generations of foreign scientists 
to learn German: provide them with a quality product they could ac- 
cess only in the language. The most explicit instantiation of this strategy 
had its roots in Imperial Russia in the 1860s and 1870s, born of the very 
characters we first met in the stormy priority dispute over Dmitrii Men- 
deleev’s periodic system. 

It is the tale of a man who became a book, a very large and important 
reference work that became indispensible for practicing organic chem- 
ists for about a century. The man was Friedrich Konrad Beilstein, and 
we first encountered him as an editor of the Zeitschrift fur Chemie, the 
one charged with translating Mendeleev’s Russian-language abstract 
into German for foreign consumption, and who botched the affair by 
entrusting it to a graduate student. Beilstein was born in St. Petersburg 
in February 1838 to a family of German-speakers who had migrated 
eastward to try their fortunes in the growing Imperial capital. Raised 
bilingually, he acquired several more languages during his later scien- 
tific training in the German states, eventually securing a post at the Uni- 
versity of Gottingen before he was summoned back to St. Petersburg’s 
Technological Institute in 1866, an offer he accepted to succor his family 
after his father’s sudden death. Beilstein thrived in St. Petersburg: he re- 
tired with honors from the Technological Institute and was elected to 
the Imperial Academy of Sciences in 1886. Yet it was a difficult environ- 
ment for him — he felt isolated because of his German name, habits, and 
language in an increasingly nationalist environment. 70 

He turned that isolation to good purpose, converting the organic 
chemistry textbook he had been working on into an index of all 
carbon-containing molecules that had yet been discovered, complete 
with detailed properties and accurate citations to the relevant schol- 

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arly literature. The first volume ofhis Handbuch derorganischen Chemie 
(. Handbook of Organic Chemistry) appeared in 1881, a two-volume be- 
hemoth consisting of 2,200 pages and detailing roughly 15,000 organic 
compounds. 71 It instantly brought him accolades from across Europe. 
(Nearer to home, however, the nationalist gibes would not stop. As he 
wrote to Heinrich Goppert in 1881: “Even the fact that my large just- 
published Handbuch der organischen Chemie appeared in the German 
language (buyers would be lacking for a Russian work) brought me the 
censure of the patriots.”* 72 ) Immediately, Beilstein turned to work on 
a second edition, which appeared in three volumes between 1886 and 
1889. The third edition of 1893-1899, spanning 6,800 pages and an 
additional 50,000 compounds, consisted of four tomes, and Beilstein 
had had enough. There were too many new organic molecules being dis- 
covered, the literature was unimaginably vast, and he was growing old. 

So this project, begun as a lone venture by a Germanophone scientist 
living in the Russian capital, was catapulted to the heart of Berlin. In 
1896 Beilstein began to make arrangements for the German Chemical 
Society to undertake the publication of future editions, and he deputed 
Paul Jacobson, then 36 years old and soon to be appointed as the general 
secretary of the Society, as editor. 73 Not everyone was happy with the ar- 
rangement; Jakob Volhard, for example, argued that “[i]n my opinion, 
one would better leave both the Beilstein and the Centralblatt to private 
industry. But Beilstein was so hot and heavy for this plan that the fur- 
ther editions would be edited by the Chemical Society that there was no 
setting out of reasons against it[. . .]. 74 Beilstein died in 1906, pleased 
that his magnum opus would live on. In 1914 the Society in turn en- 
trusted the printing of the fourth edition, due to contain all molecules 
discovered before 1 January 1910, to the Springer publishing firm. That 
same year, of course, the Great War erupted. 

Amazingly, the war had very little impact on the progress of the Beil- 
stein, as the book came to be universally known. By the middle of 1916, 
the entire file of material for the fourth edition was assembled in 123 

*“Selbst die Tliatsache, dafi mein so eben erscheinendes groBes Handbuch der orga- 
nischen Chemie in deutscher Sprache erscheint (fur ein russisches Werk wiirde es an 
Abnehmern fehlen), hat mir den Tadel der Patrioten zugezogen.” 

*“Sowohl den Beilstein als auch das Centralblatt hatte man meiner Meinung nach 
besser der Privatindustrie uberlassen. Aber Beilstein war so Feuer und Flamme fiir 
diesen Plan, daB die weiteren Ausgaben von der chemischen Gesellschaft heraus- 
gegeben werden, es war kein Aufkommen mit Grim den dagegenf. . 



fireproof filing cabinets in Hofmann Haus (the same location as the 
Chemisches Zentralblatt ), with a photograph of the entire manuscript 
for backup. The first volume was sent to the printers that November, 
and it was completed by 1918 despite a paper shortage. 75 Though the 
Entente fumed about the dominance of German science, Beilstein was 
specifically cited in April 1918 as a reason why “a reading knowledge 
of German, with French if possible,” was required for a chemist. 76 An 
attempt to translate Beilstein into French in the interwar period self- 
destructed. 77 As German chemists became pariahs in the wake of the 
Boycott, Jacobson hoped that “[m]aybe it is granted to the 4th edi- 
tion [. . .] to assume for itself [the task] and thus help peoples to come 
closer to each other on a common path in the pursuit of scientific 
progress!”* 78 He died in 1923, three years before the boycott was re- 
scinded. Jacobson’s long-time collaborator Bernhard Prager was now 
joined by Friedrich Richter, who oversaw the appearance of the final 
(27th!) volume of the fourth edition in 1937. The stormiest period of 
Beilstein 's existence was just about to begin. 

Prager was summarily dismissed in 1933 on political grounds; he 
died the following year. Six Jewish collaborators were also sacked, 
and Richter feared he could not keep to his publication deadline and 
begged the board to postpone further dismissals until 1936. That year 
and the following, four central employees and five additional workers 
of Jewish extraction were fired. Fosing 30% of its total staff (28 in 1933 
and 31 in 1937, including the editor) was crippling. 79 Richter kept his 
skeleton crew working throughout the war, although they abandoned 
Hofmann Haus in 1943 because of air raids — presciently, given the dev- 
astation the following year that caught the Zentralblatt unawares — and 
carried their library to Zobten, near Breslau in Silesia. The staff, bur- 
dened by their massive library, then retreated before the encroaching 
Red Army and settled in Tharandt until January 1945, when Soviet in- 
cursions forced them back to Berlin. The Americans happily welcomed 
them in July and set them to work. 

Beilstein moved into the former offices of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Insti- 
tute for Biology. By 1946, the staff had been reduced to a paltry seven 
people. In 1951 the rechristened “Beilstein Institute for the Fiterature 
of Organic Chemistry” had built up to a healthy complement of 39, 

*“Vielleicht ist es der 4. Auflage beschiedenf. . .], auf sich zu ziehen und daran mitzu- 
helfen, daft die Volker sich einander wieder in der Verfolgung des wissenschaftlichen 
Fortschritts auf gemeinsamen Wegen nahern!” 

The Fe Curtain 


newly settled far away from the Soviets and East Germans in Frankfurt- 
Hochst, and moving six years later into the newly constructed Carl- 
Bosch-Haus in Frankfurt am Main itself. 80 All of this cost a good deal 
of money, and resources were hard to find in postwar West Germany. 
As the official history of the International Union of Pure and Ap- 
plied Chemistry (IUPAC) noted, “there was a widely held view that 
these publications” — Beilstein and its sister for inorganic chemistry, 
the Gmelin — “were regarded by some nations as spoils of war; thus it 
was vital that the Union should take an active part in ensuring that the 
whole chemical community could benefit from information gathered 
by their editorial staff.” 81 The financial burden was massive, but the 
elites who crafted science were convinced — just as they had been after 
World War I, but with perhaps a greater degree of urgency — that Beil- 
stein s “role as a German bearer of culture abroad today is of especial 
significance for us Germans [. . .].”* 82 

Beilstein could bring redemption, and who better to offer it than 
Otto Hahn, recent Nobel laureate for the discovery of fission and a 
“good German” who had weathered the Nazi onslaught with minimal 
compromises to his good name. As the new president of the Max Planck 
Society, Hahn was willing to adopt Beilstein if he could thereby stave off 
the collapse of German as a scientific language. He wrote to the Min- 
istry of Economy in 1952 for 83,000 Deutschmarks (about $177,000 in 
2014 dollars — a princely sum in the circumstances) to be disbursed to 
the Beilstein Institute. “Precisely the fact that a standard work of chem- 
istry appears in the German language is of especial value for the return 
to recognition of German in the scientific field,” he explained. “I have 
often sadly had to notice that precisely the retreat of the German lan- 
guage at international congresses has in the end damaging effects for 
the economy and for the image of Germany in general. It seems to me 
therefore especially desirable that the Beilstein Institute, the leader of 
which enjoys the greatest recognition and esteem, also receives further 
support from the part of your ministry.” 1 83 

*“Fiir uns Deutsche ist seine Rolle als deutscher Kulturtrager im Ausland in der heu- 
tigen Zeit von besonderer Bedeutung[. . 

+ “Gerade die Tatsache, dass ein Standardwerk der Chemie in deutscher Sprache 
erscheint, ist fur die Wiedergeltung der deutschen Sprache auf dem wissenschaft- 
lichen Gebiet von besonderem Wert. Ich habe oft leider feststellen miissen, dass 
gerade der Riickgang der deutschen Sprache auf internationalen Kongressen sich 
letztenendes auch schadlich fur die Wirtschaft und fur das Ansehen Deutschlands 
uberhaupt auswirkt. Es scheint mir deshalb besonders erwunscht, dass das Beilstein- 



Hahn understood that working chemists needed to consult Beil- 
stein s hefty volumes constantly, and to do so they needed at least a 
modicum of German. A whole raft of handbooks were produced — 
some in German, some in English, many bilingual — to teach the un- 
initiated enough “ Beilstein German” to make headway. 84 Springer dis- 
tributed a slim 2,000-word dictionary free of charge. 85 In the end, one 
English guide pointed out, “even students whose ability to cope with 
the German introduction is very meager will be found to have little dif- 
ficulty with the technical vocabulary of the main part of the work.” 86 As 
long as Beilstein was indispensible, so was the German language. 

But all was not quiet on the European scientific-publishing front. 
In 1950 Elsevier — Springer’s Dutch arch-competitor — announced that 
it was contemplating putting out an encyclopedia in organic chemis- 
try, duplicating much of Beilstein, in English. (Ironically, the project 
was itself an outcome of the exile of German chemists; fired and dis- 
placed employees of Beilstein would form the core of its work force.) 
Hahn convened a meeting in Frankfurt to discuss the implications and 
insisted repeatedly that Beilstein must remain in German in order to 
retain the support of his Society. “Besides,” he continued, “it would be 
good if the American boys’ at least still had in Beilstein the opportunity 
to practice German. Such a work would be good propaganda for Ger- 
many.”* 87 Dr. R. Fraser of UNESCO, who attended the meeting, also 
insisted that “the Beilstein in any event will be published in the German 
language. Not just for the reason that thus the American youth’ will 
learn German, but because Beilstein has always been a German under- 
taking and it belongs to the German language.’^ 88 Richter, the Third 
Reich’s Beilstein editor and now also West Germany’s, lamented that 
“interest in and knowledge of the German language abroad has greatly 
fallen off.” Would Beilstein save scientific German? “In the end,” he con- 
tinued, “decisive for the sales of the Beilstein Handbuch is however the 

Institut, dessen Leiter international grosste Anerkennung und Wertschatzung 
geniesst, auch von seiten Ihres Ministeriums eine weitere Unterstiitzung erfahrt.” 
*“Ausserdem waere es gut, wenn die ‘American boys’ wengistens noch im Beilstein 
Gelegenheit haetten, sich in der deutschen Sprache zu ueben. Ein solches Werk waere 
ein egute Propaganda fuer Deutschland.” 

+ “der Beilstein auf alle Faelle in deutscher Sprache gedruckt wird. Nicht gerade aus 
dem Grunde, damit die ‘amerikanischen Jungens’ auch Deutsch lernen, sondern 
weil Beilstein immer ein deutsches Unternehmen gewesen ist und es zur deutschen 
Sprache gehoert.” 

The Fe Curtain 


high quality that will retain for the Handbuch its uniqueness and indis- 
pensability .”* 89 Beilstein would remain German. 

Until 1981, when it was decided to render all future volumes of Beil- 
stein in English. 90 By then, the Beilstein Institute had expanded to a staff 
of 160, no of whom possessed a PhD in chemistry, and their work was 
supplemented by roughly 350 outside contributors (mostly West Ger- 
mans) who had a higher degree in chemistry. These individuals under- 
stood the shape of the chemical literature, saw the almost miniscule 
contribution that appeared in German, and bowed to what seemed in- 
evitable. On 1 April 1978, Reiner Luckenbach succeeded H. G. Boit as 
editor of Beilstein , and he moved what had been a personal project of 
a nineteenth-century subject of the Tsar into an avatar of the digital 
age. 91 Beilstein was plagued by delays and exorbitant prices as long as 
it stayed a serial monograph. Shifting, albeit slowly, to an electronic 
search engine resolved a host of orthographic and especially language- 
barrier difficulties and made the high price tag — by the 1990s, it cost 
more than $30,000 — worth the investment. 92 In 1998, a chemist who 
had been using Beilstein for decades applauded the transformation; 
while piecing together the components of a reaction had once been a 
tiresome slog through hardbound volumes, “now those activities take a 
few seconds, because the database is computerized and the information 
is essentially all in English.” 93 


One would not recognize in today’s Beilstein any of the traces of this 
long and complex trek through the history of scientific German. After 
the end of the Cold War, with the breaching of the Berlin Wall in 
November 1989 and the reunification of Germany the following year, 
the Beilstein Institute remained in Frankfurt am Main but the entire 
enterprise “remade itself into a commercial venture, and it is run as a 
business, in a most businesslike manner,” to quote one commentator. 
“Virtually nothing but the name and high quality are the same after 
this massive reorganization effort.” 94 While it had once been funded by 
Springer and the German state, the efforts of the Institute were now en- 

*“das Interesse an der deutschen Sprache und ihre Kenntnis im Ausland sehr zuriick- 
gegangen seien. Letzten Endes entscheidend fur den Absatz des Beilstein-Handbuchs 
sei aber eine hohe Qualitat, die dem Handbuch seine Einmaligkeit und Unentbehr- 
lichkeit wahren werde.” 



tirely controlled by a private company, Information Handling Systems, 
complete with a new bureaucratic structure. The name of the informa- 
tional service changed accordingly. With full computerization, the sys- 
tem was dubbed “CrossFire Beilstein,” and in 2009 its content was sub- 
sumed into Elsevier’s “Reaxsys,” its German origins subsumed within a 
trademark neologism of the age of globalization. 

The stories in this chapter have been episodic, tacking between insti- 
tutions, publishing ventures, abstract journals, and countries, but each 
occupied the same territorial space, often only a kilometer or two apart 
in the center of the city that defined for much of the Northern Hemi- 
sphere the meaning of “Cold War.” Told through the eyes of scientists 
who (for the most part) sincerely believed that they worked above ide- 
ology and outside of narrow geopolitical interests, the narrative dif- 
fers from conventional stories of the Cold War. There aren’t many spies 
and there is surprisingly little overt grandstanding, but nonetheless the 
choices made by Otto Hahn with Beilstein , the East German academy 
with the denazification of Pfliicke, the universities East and West as 
they struggled to staff their courses and simultaneously adapt to a new, 
post-Third Reich Germany (and, eventually, Germanies), relate a story 
of Europe for the modern age. Scientific German provides a less dra- 
matic take, granted, than John Le Carre or Ian Fleming might have, 
but perhaps that is because the ordinary life of scientists attempting to 
reconcile with the past, communicate with their present peers, and plan 
for the future represents the lived reality of the Cold War for the vast 

Not only was the state of scientific German hard to characterize 
by the end of the 1970 s, so was German itself. Always a pluricentric 
language — think of the distinctions between German in Berlin and in 
Munich, in Dresden and in Koln, not to mention Austria (Salzburg vs. 
Vienna), Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Pennsylvania German, and so on — 
the surprising stability of the Cold War prompted discussion of the divi- 
sion of German itself. A vigorous sociolinguistic debate grappled with 
the question of whether East and West German were becoming two 
distinct dialects or even languages. Given the ideological context of the 
times, it is unsurprising that characteristic patterns emerged, with East 
Germans highlighting variations not only in lexicon but also in syntax 
to argue for the development of a distinctive socialist culture, and West 
Germans attempting to minimize these as unimportant variations in 
the face of a common linguistic bond . 95 By the 1970s, this debate had 
become like the Cold War: static and without resolution. 

The Fe Curtain 


The fuzzy national status of German — in the postwar period, it was 
an official language in six countries and enjoyed subordinate (minority 
or regional) status in Belgium, Italy, and Namibia besides — was to some 
extent an advantage. German was a capitalist language, as represented 
by the Federal Republic. It was a socialist language, as evidenced by the 
Democratic Republic. It was politically neutral, thanks to Switzerland. 
It enjoyed, therefore, a marked capacity to serve as a passport between 
different worlds, facilitating a resurgence of the language as a vehicle 
for international trade. 96 For many, however, hopes for the rehabilita- 
tion of the language to its former international dominance rested with 
science, for this was an area (unlike politics or economics) where Ger- 
man dominance was not resented in the contemporary world, and in 
which the achievements of the past retained value. The rare optimistic 
article proclaiming a renaissance in German to lie right around the cor- 
ner would always cite science — the Max Planck Society, the excellent 
universities, the prestigious journals and publishers — as the vehicle for 
future growth. 97 More realistic sociolinguists, however, recognized that 
the state of German in the sciences was locked into a zero-sum rela- 
tionship with English. As Ulrich Ammon, the foremost scholar of the 
present-day status of German as a scientific language, noted in 1990: 
“the ground lost by German has been gained virtually exclusively by 
English.” 98 There is no other place to bring our story to conclusion than 
the language in which it has been written. 




The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How dif- 
ferent are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I 
cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, 
so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I 
have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul 
frets in the shadow of his language. 



On New Year’s Day, 2012, science reached the end of its Latin. As of 
that date, the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, the offi- 
cial record of plant species, declared as no longer obligatory the long- 
established practice of requiring not only that the Linnaean binomial 
classification, but also the description of candidates for new species 
(how many stamens, the shape of the leaves, and so forth) be in Latin. 
You could still submit descriptions in Latin if you wished — perhaps to 
keep up skills from primary school, or to continue a pleasant association 
with the classicists across campus — but from this date onward English 
would also be acceptable. Descriptions in Latin became a requirement 
in 1906, in response to a request by Spanish botanists to allow their lan- 
guage as legitimate for botanical diagnoses alongside French, English, 
German, and Italian. The reaction was predictable: to avoid an incipient 
Babel of too many languages, the international organization insisted 
upon the language of the Romans, perceived as neutral. The custom was 
reaffirmed in Article 37 of the International Code, published in 1961. 
And now, in 2012, Latin was perceived as unwieldy and backward, and 
the new language of neutrality was one of the very tongues the Spanish 
delegates had protested: English. 2 This outcome is probably no surprise 
to you. The only question is why it took so long. 

Today, English is not only the dominant form of international scien- 
tific publication and oral communication at conferences and in multi- 
national laboratories — it is almost always the only language of such 

2 94 


communication. Tliere are many ways to illustrate this, from grabbing 
your nearest scientist and simply inquiring to perusing the shelves of 
scientific journals in any technical library, but the quickest way of sur- 
veying the extent of the transformation is with numbers. As in the graph 
presented in the introduction, the evidence of the past half century is 
unequivocal. If one counts the cover- to -cover translations of Soviet 
journals as “English” articles — and one really should, since this was 
how most Soviet science was consumed abroad — then already by 1969 
fully 81% of the physics literature appeared in English. More conserva- 
tively, Chemical Abstracts recorded in 1980 that 64.7% of the articles it 
abstracted appeared originally in English, 17.8% in Russian, and 5.2% 
in Japanese, followed by smaller numbers in German and French (with 
Polish next in line, at 1.1%), a dramatic transformation from the triumvi- 
rate that had opened the twentieth century. Between 1980 and 1996 
German dropped from 2.5% to 1.2% across all the natural sciences and 
Russian equivalently moved from 10.8% to 2.1%; English, on the other 
hand, had jumped from 74.6% to 90.7%. 3 That data, however, does not 
fully take into account the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet 
Union or the globalization of China and India. It is hard to measure 
the total output now, but in elite journals across the natural sciences, no 
matter the country of origin, well over 98% of publication — a sum that 
has, recall, been steadily increasing over time — is in English. 4 There is an 
absolute flood of natural knowledge being produced in a language once 
confined to the southern part of one particular island in the North Sea. 

It is not just a question of how much English, but also what kind of 
English we are talking about. English, like any other language, shows 
enormous (and constant) diversification and divergence, differenti- 
ated by geography, social class, race, and other factors. These distinc- 
tions range not only from the obvious markers of accent or word choice 
(“flat” vs. “apartment”), but to dramatic rearrangements of syntax. That 
is, the tension we have explored between opting for “identity” (express- 
ing yourself in the idiom most comfortable to you) and “communica- 
tion” (attempting to reach the broadest audience possible) remains an 
issue for English speakers even when talking to others who speak osten- 
sibly “the same” language. 5 If you believe that all “English” speakers are 
mutually intelligible, you need to get out more. 

Nonetheless, there is a “standard” English that facilitates commu- 
nication around the world, although it is not regulated by any official 
state body as in the case of French or Modern Hebrew, and the English 
spoken and written by scientists is an even more rigorously standard- 

Anglophonia 295 

ized and specialized variant. 6 The peculiar features of international sci- 
entific English, the particular history of its emergence, and the impact 
of its growth upon the other dominant languages of science, are the sub- 
jects of this chapter, concluding the history of scientific languages we 
have traced through the centuries. It seems that the oscillation between 
communication and identity seems to have settled, for the present, very 
definitively upon the “communication” side of the spectrum. English’s 
rise has received its greatest push not from native speakers, but from 
non - native Anglophones (the majority of scientists and engineers in the 
world) using the language to reach the broadest audience. This has hap- 
pened largely because English has come to be seen — rather surprisingly, 
given its history — as a “neutral” international mode of communication, 
whereas using French or Russian or Japanese is interpreted as a gesture 
directed at domestic audiences. This perception of neutrality has been 
the engine enabling English’s omnipresence in international science. 

How Widespread Will English Become? 

The development of English — from the arrival of Angles and Saxons 
to the British Isles, the intermixing of Scandinavian influences due to 
Viking invasions, the Norman conquest of 1066 and the grafting of 
French forms onto the dominant Anglo-Saxon, the constant presence 
of Latin (from Roman centurions to medieval monks), down to the 
flourishing of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Middle English and William Shake- 
speare’s Modern English — has been extensively studied, and this is not 
the place to rehearse well-worn milestones. 7 Although one might pre- 
sume that the position of English in the world today is most heavily 
indebted to imperial expansion, it is rather the case, as linguist Robert 
Kaplan has observed, that “the spread of English is a relatively modern 
phenomenon; [. . .] most of the spread has occurred since the end of 
World War II.” 8 The rise of English not only in the sciences but in other 
areas actually postdates the high-water mark of the British Empire in 
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

For most of the period when the speaker base of English was cen- 
tered in Britain, the prospects for its diffusion were not particularly 
rosy. In 1582, Richard Mulcaster, often considered the founder of En- 
glish lexicography, sadly noted that “[t]he English tongue is of small 
reach, stretching no further than this island of ours, nay not there over 
all.” 9 A century later, after Britain’s first wave of overseas colonization, 
there were only an estimated eight million speakers of the language 



worldwide. 10 Foreign correspondence, both mercantile and diplomatic, 
took place in the dominant vehicular languages of the early modern 
age: Latin, French, and Dutch. As late as 1714, when the posthumous 
edition of French linguist Giovanni Veneroni’s dictionary of the chief 
languages of Europe was published, English was not considered impor- 
tant enough to include beside French, German, Italian, and Latin. 11 
Later, provinciality was displaced by an abiding certainty that French- 
speakers and German-speakers (let alone the rest of the planet) would 
not accede calmly to the enormous advantage the global spread of En- 
glish would give to British and American national interests. 12 

Geopolitics was one strike against English’s dominance; another, 
perceived by many to be much more serious, was the sheer difficulty 
of the language. English was too hard to be global. In 1886, Scottish 
phonetics pioneer Alexander Melville Bell — whose much more famous 
son and namesake is credited with the invention of the telephone — 
published an ambitious pamphlet entitled World-English . Writing in 
the shadow of ever-growing Volapiik, he was mostly optimistic: “No 
language could be invented for International use that would surpass 
English, in grammatical simplicity, and in general fitness to become the 
tongue of the World. The only drawback to extension of English has 
been its difficult and unsystematic spelling.” 13 Orthographic reform 
could remove the final roadblock — although the sheer bizarreness of 
his proposed new letters to represent specific sounds (which I would 
love to reproduce but am prevented by typographic constraints) may 
give the modern reader pause. (It is striking, in fact, how rarely spell- 
ing comes up as an obstacle in contemporary discussions of scientific 
English, probably largely because the lexicon is so circumscribed for 
each subdiscipline.) 

The much more common diagnosis of English’s difficulty stressed 
the sheer variety of words covering similar notions, and the prolifera- 
tion of grammatical exceptions that often obscured what boosters saw 
as the tongue’s essential simplicity. The most prominent critique in 
this direction was C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards’s Basic English. Ac- 
cording to Richards, among the leading literary critics of his genera- 
tion, the idea occurred to Ogden while the two were writing their book 
on semantics, The Meaning of Meaning . 14 While exploring definitions 
of various abstract terms, Ogden was struck by “the fact that whatever 
you are defining, certain words keep coming back into your definitions. 
Define them, and with them you could define anything.” 15 The solu- 
tion to a universal language might be to preserve the simple grammar 

Anglophonia 297 

of English — no gender, limited agreement, fixed word order — and cap 
the vocabulary. 

Basic English, Ogden and Richards would insist, was nothing more 
than English with fewer words, 850 to be exact: 600 names of things, 
150 names of qualities, and 100 “operations,” a catch-all category that 
lumped verbs together with prepositions. 16 Basic English, Ogden pro- 
claimed, “is an English in which 850 words do all the work of 20,000, 
and has been formed by taking out everything which is not necessary 
to the sense. Disembark , for example, is broken up into get off a ship. I 
am able takes the place of I can ; shape is covered by the more general 
word form-, and difficult by the use of hard .” 17 Richards — the St. Paul for 
Ogden’s language — held that 850 was the perfect number: “It would be 
easy to cut Basic English down to 500 words, but then it would depart 
from Standard Usage and at the same time the strain of making the 
limited language cover the needs of its users would increase prohibi- 
tively.” 18 Perhaps, but is “umbrella” essential? Is “dance” superfluous? 
Ogden and Richards were inflexible about the core vocabulary, but they 
admitted that specialist activities — importantly including science — 
demanded supplemental vocabularies, which could be added on to the 
basic word list or simply defined upon their first use in terms of the 
original 8 50. 19 

According to its advocates, Basic English solved every difficulty that 
beset English. First, it was “not greatly different from ordinary stan- 
dard English.” 20 This meant that, unlike a pidgin or simplified lan- 
guage, there was nothing to unlearn in moving from Basic to Standard 
English — the former was a proper subset of the latter; nothing that was 
grammatical in the first would be unintelligible to native speakers. Sec- 
ond, by quickly enabling students to maneuver with the language, it 
would lessen feelings of “intellectual, technological, or other domina- 
tion” by English speakers. 21 That said, in 1943 the British War Cabinet 
began active promotion of Basic, which they hoped would prevent the 
disintegration of the language into pidgins and dialects as the British 
Empire continued to occupy disparate regions of the world. Basic En- 
glish, under the active personal promotion of Richards, even had a dis- 
tinguished career in Republican China before the Japanese invasion at 
the start of World War II. 22 

Basic English did not lack for contemporary critics. One of the most 
forceful arguments came from Lancelot Hogben — British biologist, 
statistician, and science popularizer with a knack for languages. “With 
due recognition of [Ogden’s] unique achievement,” he wrote, “it is there- 



fore important to state charitably at the outset why Basic was bogus.” 23 
The answer was what he called “mnemonic load.” While Ogden and 
Richards claimed they could minimize learning difficulties by reducing 
vocabulary, was replacing “belittle” with “make light” and “manifest” 
with “come to be” really a savings? For a word, one must now memo- 
rize a compound phrase. The real work lay in the metaphors behind 
the words, a point essentially conceded by Richards, who noted that “it 
must not for a moment be supposed that Basic leaves it to the learner 
to invent and experiment with these metaphors at random. The great- 
est part of the labour of producing Basic did in fact go to the thorough 
inventory of these metaphors.” 24 More sniping followed: Basic sounded 
wooden; it functioned as a pidgin; it was helpful for reading but not 
writing or speaking; it did nothing for pronunciation; and it merely 
delayed the inevitable need to learn English 25 If English was inhibited 
because it was too hard, too verbose, too difficult to spell — then Basic 
English would not help. 

It was not obvious even in the wake of World War II that English 
would take over the way it has. In a history of “scientific English” 
penned in 1947, a curmudgeonly author anticipated the continuation of 
the triumvirate: “Thus it is that every scholar today is trilingual, perhaps 
lamely so but still struggling valiantly toward that end. Three instead 
of one linguae francae for science are a burden.” 26 And even those who 
recognized that English was on the rise — and a cursory examination 
of abstract journals would tell any scientist that, as of September 1949, 
57% of all scientific articles were published in English — there were still 
fears that “Russian, Chinese, or Urdu” would eventually supplant this 
dominance. 27 With the benefit of hindsight, we know this did not hap- 
pen. Not by a long shot. 

When Did English Come to Seem Inevitable? 

It is broadly assumed that the greatest hostility to the omnipresence 
of English is based in Paris, a reasonable inference based on the visi- 
bility of excoriations of English by politicians and intellectuals in the 
Fifth Republic. Yet even as far back as 1982, the dominant attitude in 
French scientific periodicals toward the growth of English publishing 
was resignation. “Despite the fact that French is still the language of 
scientific work in West Africa, in the countries of the Maghreb, in Que- 
bec, and in certain francophone European countries,” noted a special 
commission of the Comptes rendus, the journal of the storied Academie 



des Sciences, “English is today the international language of science; 
it could become its sole language very soon.”* 28 The commission won- 
dered then — and some French commentators have continued to pon- 
der today — whether there was even any point in maintaining French- 
language scientific journals, dressing up as serious research what might 
be better understood as “popularization.” 29 When did such views be- 
come reasonable to their proponents ? When and why, that is, did non- 
native speakers of English begin to see the position of English in the 
sciences as a fait accompli ? 

One dominant factor is the sheer size of the scientific vocabulary in 
English. There are more words in English dedicated to the various sci- 
ences than for any other function, as a casual glimpse on almost any 
page of a reasonable dictionary will make abundantly plain. 30 (There 
are also more scientific words in English that have at least partly An- 
cient Greek roots than there are words in Ancient Greek. 31 ) The size of 
the vocabulary not only indicates that it is possible to conduct research 
in any science in English; with each word that is developed for English 
alone, it becomes harder to repeat the Russians’ accomplishment from 
chapter 3 and engineer a scientific language in, say, Tagalog or Swahili or 
Malay. One would need to develop a standard term for every scientific 
notion, publicize it, and get it into use. The cost of this, as well as devel- 
oping the full complement of publishing houses, is overwhelming, even 
increasingly for languages like German, which have a healthy scientific 
vocabulary of their own. 32 

For most scientists, the sharpest evidence of Anglification has been 
in the contents of scientific journals, the main outlet by which find- 
ings about the natural world are disseminated. The pattern has become 
so routine as to be almost cliche: first, a periodical publishes only in a 
particular ethnic language (French, German, Italian); then, it permits 
publication in that language and also a foreign tongue, always including 
English but sometimes also others; finally, the journal excludes all other 
languages but English and becomes purely Anglophone, regardless of 
whether it is published in Milan, or Marseilles, or Mainz, or Mexico 
City. As one (English-speaking) chemist put it: “[OJnce an editorial 
committee decides to allow the use of English in the pages of its jour- 

*“Bien que la fran^ais soit encore la langue de travail des scientifiques en Afrique 
occidentale, dans les pays du Maghreb, au Quebec et dans certains pays europeens 
francophones, l’anglais est des aujourd’hui la langue internationale de la science; elle 
pourrait devenir tres prochainement sa langue unique.” 



nal, it finds that it has invited a cuckoo into its nest that pushes the 
native fledglings aside.” 33 Foreign publishers, adjusting to copyediting 
and production in English, have incurred higher costs in hiring editors 
with the obligatory native or near-native English skills. 34 Often, but not 
always, the name of the journal changes as well, the bland English moni- 
ker hiding any trace of the national origin of the periodical. A scatter- 
shot survey will suffice: Die Heidelberger Beitriige zur Mineralogie und 
Petrographie, founded in 1947, became Contributions to Mineralogy and 
Petrology in 1966; Mineralogische Mittheilungen, founded in 1871, be- 
came Mineralogy and Petrology in 1987; Zeitschrift fur Tierpsychologie, 
which published 100 % of its articles in German in 1950 (although En- 
glish, French, and Italian were acceptable), began to shift to English 
already in 1955, and changed its name to Ethology in January 1986; the 
storied Annales de I’lnsitut Pasteur became Research in Immunology in 
1989; the Mexican Archivos de Investigacion Medica transitioned gradu- 
ally in the 1980s into the Archives of Medical Research-, the Archiv fur 
Kreislaufforschung is now Basic Research in Cardiology, the Zeitschrift 
fur Kinderheilkunde is now the European Journal of Pediatrics-, Gastro- 
enterologia became Digestion-, and the official organ of the Japanese So- 
ciety of Plant Physiologists is called Plant and Cell Physio logy . 3 5 

Simply relating a list of titles does not, however, give a sense of how 
this transformation was experienced by the non-Anglophone contribu- 
tors to these journals. An instructive case in point is Psych ologische 
Forschung, founded in 1921 by Kurt Koffka and several other giants of 
German psychology, which rechristened itself Psychological Research 
in 1974, adding the subtitle “An International Journal of Perception, 
Learning, and Communication.” The transition to a fully English jour- 
nal had been in the cards for a while. In 1971-1972, the journal pub- 
lished 24 articles, 13 of which were by German-speaking authors, yet 18 
of the articles appeared in English and only six in German. Only eight 
of the English articles displayed German abstracts. After the language 
change, German abstracts atrophied. Examining the “Instructions for 
Authors” published in the journal’s paratext gives some indication of 
why. In Psychologische Forschung, potential contributors were informed, 
in German, that “Contributions will be accepted in German, English 
and French. It is requested that manuscripts be composed in English 
as far as possible ”* (emphasis in original); but in Psychological Research 

*“Es werden Beitrage in deutscher, englischer und franzosischer Sprache angenom- 
men. Es wird gebeten, die Manuskripte moglichst in Englisch abzufassen.” 



the English-language equivalent declared: “ Papers should be preferably 
written in English ” and also that “[e]ach paper should be preceded by a 
summary of the main points. . . . Papers in French and German should 
also have the title and summary in English.” Werner Traxel, an irate 
Germanophone psychologist, wrote to the publisher in April 1975 and 
asked whether, as the instructions implied, the journal would still ac- 
cept German articles, and if so whether they would facilitate a trans- 
lation into English. An editor responded that English articles were 
strongly encouraged, and that if Traxel felt uncomfortable in the lan- 
guage “[pjerhaps you have an English-speaking colleague who can be 
helpful to you in the translation. Insofar as this is not the case, in excep- 
tional cases there is the possibility of sending the manuscript to an edi- 
tor of the journal who lives in Germany ... to proofread the English.”* 36 
A linguistic tradition in psychology was at an end, and no resources 
were provided to guide stragglers into the new standardized scientific 

Standards demand conformity. Just as there had earlier been manual 
upon manual to teach Anglophones how to read chemical German or 
technical Russian, new handbooks instructed scientists in “scientific 
English,” all published, naturlich, in English. 37 That is, if you wanted, 
like most researchers in Helsinki, to compose your articles in English 
instead of having them translated (expensively) from Finnish, you had 
to be fluent enough in English to fully comprehend the guide that 
would help you accomplish your goal. 38 The format of scientific articles 
had, over the past two centuries, become increasingly regularized until 
it reached its homogeneous postwar rubric of Introduction, Meth- 
ods, Results, and Discussion (IMRAD); this much was obvious. 39 Less 
apparent but no less real was that the English too had compressed to 
very limited variation. Scientific English, even more so than scientific 
French and German, was characterized by a uniformity of style: “rela- 
tively short, syntactically simple sentences containing complex noun 
phrases with multiple modification, verbs in the passive voice, noun 
strings, technical abbreviations, quantitative expressions and equa- 
tions, and citational traces.” 40 The standard English of scientific prose, 
distinct from the “standard English” of Hollywood and the financial 

*“Vielleicht haben Sie einen englischsprachigen Kollegen, der Ihnen bei der Uber- 
setzung behilflich sein kann. Sofern dies nicht der Fall ist, besteht in Ausnahmefallen 
die Moglichkeit, das Manuskript an einen in Deutschland lebenden Herausgeber der 
Zeitschrift . . . zur Uberpriifung des Englischen zu senden.” 



press, amounted to a new dialect for nonnative speakers (and for native 
speakers too, as anyone who has attempted to write scientific prose has 

Alongside the hegemony of English in written science, its promi- 
nence in spoken science as, in most instances, the only language of 
international scientific conferences, is just as striking, and substantially 
more burdensome. Translation is expensive, and so only manageable at 
selected large meetings; most scientific gatherings are of smaller scale 
and take place without the benefit of professional interpreters. 41 This 
difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that many native speakers of English, 
unaware of the height of the language barrier or its radical asymmetry, 
often make little to no accommodation to the linguistic capacities of 
their audience. Although most international scientists consistently self- 
identify English as their best foreign language, multiple studies indicate 
that nonnative speakers are “handicaps par la langue ” in oral commu- 
nication. 42 

Science policy makers in traditionally strong scientific countries 
have been making significant adjustments to this emergent Anglo- 
phone world for decades. Japanese researchers functioned since the 
mid-nineteenth century with the knowledge that they would need 
some vehicular language besides Japanese if they wanted to be under- 
stood abroad, a need also reflected in a tradition of publication in Euro- 
pean languages as well as Japanese (especially for graphs and figures). 
Now English is the chief language deployed. RIKEN, Japan’s premier 
research institute, reported the publication of just under 2,000 research 
reports in English, but only 174 in Japanese in 2005, and even domestic 
scientific gatherings are using English. 43 

Anglophonia is starting ever earlier, saturating education at lower 
levels. The Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, offers all of its in- 
struction in English. In a newspaper interview, an undergraduate bi- 
ology student who studied E. coli was excited by this development. “I 
find it convenient that there is a single leading scientific language,” he 
told reporters. “Only when I tell my grandparents about my studies does 
it sometimes become complicated. Then I have to translate twice — first 
from scientific language into lay language, and then again into Ger- 
man.”* In fact, “English was one of the chief reasons for me to begin 
my studies at Jacobs University. Because I definitely want to go into re- 

*“Ich finde es angenehm, dass es eine einzige fiihrende Wissenschaftssprache gibt. 
[. . .] Nur wenn ich meinen Grofieltern von meinem Studium erzahle, wird es manch- 

Anglophonia 303 

search, and as we all know everything there runs in English.”* 44 In about 
half of the international bachelors programs for the German Academic 
Exchange Service (DAAD), education is exclusively in English, while 
460 of 640 International Masters Programs in Germany use English as 
the exclusive language, up from 250 in 2007. Advanced science students 
are obligated to use English-language textbooks regardless of the lan- 
guage of instruction. 45 Already in the 1980s, eight German universities 
permitted scholars to submit dissertations in English, and this is now 
essentially universal in the natural sciences and increasingly common in 
the social sciences and humanities. 46 As a consequence, as a manifesto 
of academics declared in 2005, “the use of the English language conveys 
the impression that in Germany one can no longer formulate and ex- 
press ideas as before. Students and scientists would prefer to study, re- 
search, and teach in the Anglo-American original than in such a coun- 

» + 47 

try. T 

As a final illustration of the ubiquity of English, consider the stories 
of an admittedly biased population: Nobel laureates in Chemistry in 
the twenty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Between 1992 
and 2011 there were 45 laureates, and of course this limited sample is 
profoundly unrepresentative. In fact, they were awarded the prize be- 
cause their workwas deemed exceptional, and many of them led unusual 
careers. It is important to remember that these scientists were awarded 
the Nobel for work performed many years, sometimes decades, earlier, 
often during the height of the Cold War. The English in their back- 
grounds illustrates how long ago Anglification became a dominant fea- 
ture of the landscape of chemistry. There is no reason to expect other 
sciences to be significantly different; in the case of physics, the effect is 
likely even more pronounced. 

What does this sample tell us? Of the 45 laureates, 19 (42%) were 
not native speakers of English, an indication of the enormous resources 
poured into science by the United Kingdom but especially the United 

mal kompliziert. Dann muss ich zwei Mai iibersetzen — erst von der Wissenschafts- 
in die Laiensprache und dann noch ins Deutsche.” 

*“Fiir mich war das Englische einer der Hauptgriinde, an der Jacobs University mein 
Studium zu beginnen. Denn ich will unbedingt in die Forschung, und da lauft nun 
mal alles auf Englisch.” 

+ “vermittelt der Gebrauch der englischen Sprache den Eindruck, man konnte in 
Deutschland neue Ideen nicht mehr als erste formulieren und aussprechen. Ein sol- 
ches Land wird fiir Studenten und Wissenschaftler studieren, forschen und lehren 
daher lieber gleich beim angloamerikanischen Original.” 



States. (The most pronounced minority is women: only one in the en- 
tire set.) Only three of these chemists, according to their official auto- 
biographies, passed their entire career without ever having studied or 
worked in an Anglophone context. All of them knew English in order 
to keep up with the literature, but this small number indicates that by 
far the most common way of securing a command of the language was to 
spend time in an environment entirely surrounded by it. World War II 
marked most of these laureates, many of whom were refugees, the chil- 
dren of refugees, or otherwise affected by the conflict. With that, the 
commonalities end; each chemist had an idiosyncratic path to science. 

A surprising number brought up language in their autobiographies. 
Although most of these were originally written in English, there is an 
undertone of other languages studied with hopes of breaking into sci- 
ence. For example, Mario J. Molina, born in Mexico City in 1943 and 
laureate in 1995, “was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland when I 
was 11 years old, on the assumption that German was an important lan- 
guage for a prospective chemist to learn.” 48 German was studied by sev- 
eral, and yet almost none who were not native speakers of the language 
published in it. On the other hand, English is everywhere. As one of 
the three who had no direct Anglophone exposure, Jens Skou — born 
in Denmark in 1918, laureate in 1997, and a resistance fighter against 
Hitler’s occupation of his homeland during the war — noted that his 
1954 dissertation was published in Danish “and written up in 6 papers 
published in English” immediately afterward. 49 Publishing in English 
seems to have been most crucial (and challenging) for the Japanese lau- 
reates. Koichi Tanaka, born in 1959 and co-recipient of the 2002 prize, 
at first studied German in university, although he lamented his poor 
grades in the subject. The major transition in his career came in Sep- 
tember 1987, at the Second Japan-China Joint Symposium on Mass 
Spectrometry in Takarazuka, Japan, when “we announced our results 
in English for the first time.” That is, even though this was a meeting 
primarily for Chinese and Japanese, English was the crucial language. 
“There is a double significance here,” he continued, “in that not only 
were the research results written in English, I actually presented the 
results in English for the first time. Although my English was far from 
good, my meaning was well enough understood by Professor [Robert] 
Cotter [of Johns Hopkins University] for him to make the results 
known around the world.” 50 A similar story, characterized by dili- 
gent study of the language, was expressed by El-Ichi Negishi, born in 



Japanese-occupied China in 1935 and laureate in 2010, whose English 
was further strengthened by obligatory classes associated with his Ful- 
bright award at the University of Pennsylvania. 51 Perhaps the most poi- 
gnant, however, were the recollections of Ahmed H. Zewail, born in 
1946 in Damanhur, Egypt, who was the sole recipient of the Nobel in 
1999. He studied in the United States and now works there, but his ar- 
rival was rough: 

I had the feeling of being thrown into an ocean. The ocean was full 
of knowledge, culture, and opportunities, and the choice was clear: 

I could either learn to swim or sink. The culture was foreign, the lan- 
guage was difficult, but my hopes were high. I did not speak or write 
English fluently, and I did not know much about western culture in 
general, or American culture in particular. 52 

The Nobel population, though not typical, is indicative of some 
major trends. As the Nobel Prizes have been awarded since 1901 by the 
Swedish Academy of Sciences, the history of the science prizes can tell 
us a lot about how Swedish science — that is, science in a small, wealthy, 
geopolitically peripheral nation — fits into the global context. Until the 
end of World War II, the overwhelming tendency was to award prizes 
to German scientists. On the one hand, this was a reflection of the tre- 
mendous ferment in German science in that period. On the other, it 
is also an indication of educational patterns: Swedish scientists were 
often educated in Germany and German was their most comfortable ve- 
hicular language. They therefore read German publications and nomi- 
nations with greater ease. The same characteristics of both quality and 
concomitant linguistic familiarity can be read in the dominance of 
Anglophone publications and scholars after the Second World War. In 
the Nobel population, the point of transition seems to be 1920; scien- 
tists born after that date lived in an Anglophone world. 53 When this 
pattern is broken, there is usually an interesting story to be found. For 
example, Soviet chemist Nikolai Semenov won the Chemistry Nobel in 
1956 largely as the result of persistent lobbying by Lars Gunnar Sillen, 
professor of inorganic chemistry at the Royal Swedish Institute of Tech- 
nology in Stockholm, who happened to know Russian and was com- 
mitted to improving Swedish-Soviet relations. 54 Without an inside 
advocate possessing an unusual linguistic profile, the message is quite 
clear: if you aim for the Prize, aim in English. 

30 6 


Why Did This Happen? 

As with any historical change on such a broad scale, involving many 
thousands of scientists spanning the entire globe across more than a cen- 
tury, there were many causes of this compression to a single language. 
First, the triumvirate had to be displaced before English could break 
away from French and German. The initial destabilizing impulse came 
with the rise of nationalist ambitions from large scientific cohorts such 
as the Russophone one, which challenged the tight strictures around 
three dominant languages, but this was overshadowed by the refusal 
of the largest and richest Anglophone population, that in the United 
States of America, to continue learning foreign languages. These fac- 
tors were supplemented by geopolitical developments by which Ameri- 
can science was lifted with American power, and the English language 
alongside both. 

English itself was not responsible — that is, English does not pos- 
sess specific qualities that make it particularly well suited for scien- 
tific research. Most linguists today would shudder at the notion that 
any language is intrinsically suited for, say, chemistry, not least because 
languages themselves are subject to constant modifications and inter- 
actions. Yet repeatedly one finds claims that this must be what lies be- 
hind English’s victory. For example, Max Talmey, the prime advocate 
of Ido in interwar America and a native speaker of German, considered 
English “far richer, far more expressive than any other language. Far 
more often than with any other tongue one meets, in a comparison per- 
taining to expressiveness, with concepts each expressible in English by a 
single word and only by a circumlocution in any other language,” while 
even a French scholar considered English “more malleable, more plastic 
than French as far as being a vehicular language.”* 55 Other paeans to its 
simplicity and “masculinity” can also be set aside. 56 

More powerful than any intrinsic linguistic advantage to English was 
a definite political backlash against German in the wake of National So- 
cialist brutality. The reaction against German in the United States hap- 
pened earlier, with the nihilistic enthusiasm of anti-Teutonic sentiment 
uncorked by the Great War; to a lesser degree, other nations dismantled 
their German educational structures in the late 1940s. Even Germano- 
philic Sweden, neutral in the global conflagration, replaced German 
with English as the first foreign language taught to children, beginning 

plus malleable, plus plastique que le fran^ais en tant que langue vehiculaire.’ 



in their fifth year of school, in 1947. Two years later, students destined 
for higher education could begin to study a second foreign language, 
typically German, but those headed for practical training only learned 
English. Similar patterns, ramified across the globe, wrought enormous 
damage on knowledge of German. 57 Even Indonesia had banned Ger- 
man instruction in 1940, and when it was reintroduced to the schools in 
1945 it was met with remarkable lack of enthusiasm on the part of both 
students and teachers. 58 

While German as a global language of scholarship suffered because 
of the actions of Germanophone political leaders, to a limited degree 
English benefited from active promotion by Anglophone govern- 
ments, especially the United States. On 11 June 1965, American Presi- 
dent Lyndon B. Johnson declared that the promotion of English was 
now “a major policy,” and the Peace Corps, the US Agency for Inter- 
national Development, and other organizations encouraged study of 
the language. 59 Likewise, the American (and British and Canadian) 
leadership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), two 
out of five Anglophone seats on the United Nations Security Council, 
and American sponsorship of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 
surely did not hurt the status of English as an international language. 60 
Although, as of 1 January 1975, English was the sole official language 
in only 21 countries, it was recognized alongside a local language in n 
more and grew increasingly popular in international organizations, be- 
coming by 2004 the official language of 85% of the 12,500 such organi- 
zations worldwide. (French came second at 49%. ) 61 Yet the Anglifica- 
tion of the sciences preceded many of these policy measures, and much 
of the enthusiasm for the language stems not from top-down political 
promotion, but from the ground up. 

These trends notwithstanding, there was a good deal of pessimism 
in the 1960s, especially in the United Kingdom, about the future of En- 
glish as a language of science. Such gloominess seems like lunacy in the 
face of that curve of ever-increasing English abstracts that we saw in the 
introduction, but a closer look reveals a plateau in the 1960s combined 
with an uptick in Japanese and Russian — not just foreign tongues, but 
written in impenetrable scripts to boot! As one study from 1962, be- 
moaning the slippage of English, put it: “It seems wise to assume that 
in the long run the number of significant contributions to scientific 
knowledge by different countries will be roughly proportional to their 
populations, and that except where populations are very small contri- 
butions will normally be published in native languages.” 62 In addition, 



there were certainly plenty of predictions, even into the late 1970s, that 
decolonization would produce a new international Babel that would 
have made the inferno of the nineteenth-century age of nationalism 
seem like a brush fire. 63 Given the global reach of the British Empire, 
hostility to English was particularly noticeable. 64 

One of the most curious features of the rise of English is the fact that 
political resistance from rapidly decolonizing nations did not provide 
effective resistence either in diplomacy or in scholarship. Decoloniza- 
tion did little to staunch the spread of Anglophonia, often because of 
the unavoidable necessity of some vehicular or auxiliary language. For 
example, at the 1955 Bandung Conference, where nonaligned nations 
proclaimed their autonomy both from former colonial masters and the 
growing US-Soviet Cold War, participants settled, after intense and 
often heated discussion, on one official language: English . 65 Meanwhile, 
developing nations in what was once called the “Third World” have re- 
peatedly opted for English. Ethiopia, for example, never colonized by 
a European power, added English as an official language, signaling a 
much broader trend. Students from most decolonizing countries, espe- 
cially in the sciences, often selected their destination of foreign study 
precisely to gain fluency in English. The United States was particularly 
desirable, as students flowed across the network established by Cold 
War foreign policy. Seven thousand foreign students studied in the 
United States in 1943, growing to 26,000 in 1949 and 140,000 in 1971, 
an expensive enterprise funded in part by the United States government 
but increasingly by grants from home countries . 66 

The crucial shift was the transition from a triumvirate that valued, 
at least in a limited way, the expression of identity within science, to an 
overwhelming emphasis on communication and thus a single vehicu- 
lar language. The very same arguments that had been pooh-poohed 
when voiced by Esperantists and Idists at the dawn of the twentieth 
century came to be unquestioned axioms by century’s end. Most soci- 
ologists and applied linguists who have examined the hegemony of sci- 
entific English have pointed to English’s ubiquity as the almost acci- 
dental outcome of computerized reference tools and the inexorable and 
omnipresent gravitational pull generated by the wealth and scientific 
prominence of the United States . 67 Early computerized databases privi- 
leged English; it was estimated in 1986 that fully 85% of the informa- 
tion available in worldwide networks was already in English . 68 Data- 
base followed database, and the advent of hyperinfluential metrics such 
as the Science Citation Index and “impact factors” only increased the 



first-mover advantage that had accrued to American indices. Publishing 
in English placed the lowest barriers toward making one’s work “detect- 
able” to researchers. 69 

The jig was therefore already up when the second most popular — 
but grossly diminished — scientific language faced a terminal crisis on 
Christmas Day, 1991: the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russian had 
been losing status in the sweepstakes of scientific languages since the 
early 1970s upon the dramatic international success of American cover- 
to-cover translation efforts. It had until then been boosted as a scientific 
language by precisely the same kind of graduate-study and postdoctoral 
flows from the Third World that were so significant for English, but the 
numbers — 7,600 students from Latin America at the height in 1985 — 
were a drop in the bucket compared with those headed to the United 
States, and the bucket had developed a serious hole in the bottom: East- 
ern Europe, which began to calve off the Soviet Bloc with rapidity as 
that decade reached its end. ' 0 Russian was stripped of its special status 
everywhere but Romania — which had abandoned obligatory Russian 
decades earlier — prompting a deluge of students into German and 
English. (German was a surprise beneficiary of the decline of Russian 
from the Baltic to the Balkans.) 71 Although post-Soviet researchers ex- 
pressed a reluctance to publish in English for several years after the ex- 
tent of the damage was made clear, the realities of the new vehicular lan- 
guage set in. In 1991, the Soviet Academy of Sciences setup the Nauka/ 
Interperiodica International Publishing House in cooperation with an 
American firm. Their mission: to make English versions of 88 academic 
journals, translated by experts and edited by Americans. Cover-to-cover 
had ceased to be a stopgap, catch-up scramble by American scientists to 
handle Russian work, and was now the official outlet of Russian scien- 
tists trying to be heard overseas. 72 The mutable evolving story of scien- 
tific languages seemed to have reached equilibrium, or stasis. 

Is This a Good Thing? 

The answer, of course, depends on your view of science and your at- 
titude toward English. Aside from those native Anglophones who 
breathe a sigh of relief at no longer having to struggle through manuals 
of scientific French, the most salient argument in favor of the devel- 
opments described in this chapter has been that English is “neutral.” 
English is a rather funny language in many respects. It has proven enor- 
mously pliant over the centuries, absorbing words, idioms, even syn- 



tax from dozens of different languages. It has no centralized academy 
to regulate usage. It does not even have a single dominant country, for 
surely the burly United States is at least strongly counterbalanced by 
the United Kingdom, not to mention India, which possibly has more 
speakers of the language than both combined. As Sabine Skudlik, one 
of the leading scholars of English as a scientific language, has noted: 
“This is the really new thing, the essential marker of modern Anglo- 
phony in science: that it not only bridges the differences of languages, 
but neutralizes all separating differences, whether of a linguistic or a 
more generally cultural kind.” * 3 

English — whose dominance as a language of science we have seen 
to be intimately linked to geopolitics, personal preferences, economic 
pressures, and a host of contingent twists and turns — is understood as 
neutral ground, even by critics of the virtual disappearance of German, 
French, Russian, and Japanese . 74 How is it possible, even reasonable, 
to come to this conclusion? Perhaps it was not so much that English 
was seen as neutral and therefore appropriate for scientific interchange, 
but rather that the association with science, long famed for objectivity 
and impartiality, endowed Anglophony with neutrality, American 
hegemony trailing behind an Erlenmeyer flask. Any aura of neutrality 
has been enabled by native speakers of other languages — especially so- 
called “minor languages,” like Dutch or Danish — who prefer it to Ger- 
man or French. (As is easy to observe, English benefits greatly from 
being “not French” or “not Russian”) In fact, these days, publishing 
science not in English is seen as marked, and is almost always done only 
by a native speaker of the language in question; if you see physics pub- 
lished in Russian, odds are that a Russian is the author . 75 Yet evidence 
that English is not neutral is remarkably easy to find. The most obvious 
asymmetry is that a certain segment of the community learns the lan- 
guage effortlessly as children; the rest — the majority — struggle through 
years of education. Their goal is not just to be able to muddle through 
an English article, dictionary in hand, to extract a general sense, but to 
acquit themselves orally under the intense pressure of hostile interroga- 
tion at a conference. Scientists are typically not gentle in their probing 

*“Das ist das eigentlich neue, das wesentliche Kennzeichen der modernen Anglo- 
phonie in der Wissenschaft: dafi sie nicht nur Sprachunterschiede iiberbruckt, son- 
dern alle trennenden Verschiedenheiten, ob sprachlicher oder allgemein kultureller 
Art, neutralisiert.” 

Anglophonia 311 

of their colleagues, and a failure of fluency can be a fatal handicap for 
one’s theories, or one’s career. 

“Struggle” is the correct word for many scientists’ encounters with 
learning English. French and German are both closely related to 
English — the former contributing to the shaping of Middle English 
after the Norman Conquest, and the latter by virtue of kinship within 
the Germanic language family. Yet native-speaking scientists of these 
two languages express significant frustration with even the reduced 
structures of scientific English. Germans seem to Americans to have an 
amazing command of the English language, but that is partially a prod- 
uct of selection bias: the conversations you remember are the ones that 
you actually manage to have. In a 1995 survey of scientists at the Uni- 
versity of Duisburg in northwestern Germany, 25% reported trouble 
reading English science, 38% had problems with speech, and 57% were 
challenged by writing. 76 This among a set of professionals who have the 
broadest exposure to the language and in a country where English study 
is obligatory. Werner Traxel, who protested the linguistic overhaul of 
Psychological Research , attributed the flaw to the English language 
itself: “Above all however English is not only an extremely flexible and 
nuance-rich language, but also one that, for the most part, cannot be de- 
scribed with fixed rules (in contrast to the Romance languages). Thus 
it gives us the impression that it is relatively imprecise, and indeed con- 
structions that go against the logic of the language appear not infre- 
quently in the specialist terminology in English.”* 77 But just as English 
is not uniquely suited to science, it cannot be uniquely ///-suited either. 
A response to Traxel noted an interesting ambiguity about provincial- 
ism and internationality. On the one hand, knowing only one language 
can be seen as provincial, and insisting on diversity can enhance inter- 
national exchange; on the other, if that one language is English, resist- 
ing it might be a knee-jerk provincial response. In short, Traxel had just 
better get over it. 78 

Not that he had a choice: English had become a seemingly perma- 
nent fixture of the intellectual landscape. The efficiency gains seem to 

*“Vor allem aber ist das Englische nicht nur eine uberaus flexible und nuancenreiche, 
sondern auch eine weitgehend nicht in feste Regeln faflbare Sprache (im Unterschied 
etwa zu romanischen Sprachen). Daher erscheint es uns auch leicht als relativ unpra- 
zise, und in der Tat sind sprachlogische Fehlbildungen in der englischen Fachtermi- 
nologie nicht selten.” 



have been tremendous, since essentially all elite natural science now ap- 
peared in one language without the tedious process of translating. Of 
course, the current state of affairs seems more efficient only to the na- 
tive speakers of English; the gains have come at the cost of everyone else 
learning fluent English. Weighing the costs and benefits is a tricky af- 
fair, but it appears that the bump under the rug has only been moved 
around rather than smoothed out. The flip-side to all this English learn- 
ing, adding insult to injury for many foreign scientists, is that most 
English-native scientists have given up all pretense of learning foreign 
languages. 79 Beginning in the 1960s, foreign-language requirements 
for graduate study in various sciences began to be eliminated — initially 
dropping from two to one, and then by the 1980s from one to zero. 80 
Tliis change confronts us with a chicken-egg dilemma in terms of causa- 
tion. The absence of a language requirement obviously meant that ever 
fewer students would be equipped to consult foreign scientific litera- 
ture, tilting the Anglophones ever more strongly into English; on the 
other hand, the requirements were eliminated in large part because they 
were no longer seen as necessary. Whichever way you understand it, 
there was no arguing with the consequences. “Those who speak English 
may get the impression of being — more or less — at home everywhere,” 
wrote one rare Anglophone observer who noticed the asymmetry. “This 
helps to be quicker, more mobile and more efficient, which corresponds 
to modern ideals of life and work. To superficial observers the whole 
world seems to be steeped in English. It is an impression which may 
breed irritation.” 81 

Just so. Lingering behind objections to scientific Anglophonia lies 
a nagging sense of the unfairness of it all. German scientists, to take a 
prominent example, have to make the difficult choice between iden- 
tity and communication, between supporting journals and educational 
institutions in their native language or disseminating cutting-edge re- 
search to the broadest-possible readership. Anglophones don’t; there 
is no dilemma, because identity and communication are the same. 82 
The inequities extend beyond psychological comfort, because native 
speakers of English, by virtue of not having to spend time learning lan- 
guages, have more time to study science, research, and publish. As a 
result, native speakers of English are overrepresented in the scholarly 
literature. Even though there are more nonnative-Anglophone scien- 
tists than vice versa, one study has found that only about 20% of the 
global quantity of English scientific works are produced by those indi- 
viduals. 83 One political theorist has even suggested that the unfairness 



might be moderated by a progressive taxation scheme, whereby Anglo- 
phone scientists might pay slightly higher page-costs for their publica- 
tions, which in turn would be used to subsidize the copyediting of non- 
native submissions . 84 

It seems evident that Anglophone hegemony in the sciences would 
be disadvantageous for some scientists, but surely this is simply the luck 
of the draw. Americans used to be disadvantaged by the German domi- 
nance in chemistry, for example. A more abstract but potentially more 
serious question remains: is the current system bad for science? Or for 
English ? The questions are related, but the arguments they raise are 
slightly different, so we will take them in turn. 

First, is English bad for science — not because it is English, but be- 
cause it is a single language ? Does science benefit when it is multilin- 
gual? The contrary position — that it is simpler to have one vehicular 
language than to have three, let alone dozens — although ignored when 
Esperantists preferred it, now seems to hold sway. There are plenty of 
examples of facts delayed in transit, as when it took the rest of the world 
several years to catch up to what the Japanese were finding out about 
the plant hormone gibberellin, simply because the publications were 
trapped in kanji and katakana . 85 So maybe everyone wins when com- 
munication expands. 

Or do they? The earliest losers in the lottery of scientific languages 
are younger students. Imagine a child in sub-Saharan Africa who is 
being taught chemistry. In what language is the class ? If in a Bantu lan- 
guage, who translated the word for “oxygen” ? Such a concept has been 
around for long enough that it might have filtered down to local lan- 
guages around the world. But how about more contemporary concepts, 
like ozone depletion, or the Planck length, or object-centric debugging? 
Educational research to date indicates that children understand scien- 
tific concepts better when presented in their native language, but that 
requires textbooks and lesson plans in all the world’s languages . 86 Those 
don’t exist. The further one advances in science, the greater the scarcity 
of non-English pedagogical materials. If you want to study topologi- 
cal theory or stereochemistry in college, your English needs to be up to 
snuff. How many students are lost not because of weak scientific skills, 
but weak linguistic ones ? 

In the less mathematical sciences, even professional scientists — 
those who have already cleared the hurdles of advanced education and 
who presumably are more than passingly familiar with English texts — 
sometimes suggest that something has been lost with monolingualism. 

3 T 4 


All science develops through making connections between seemingly 
unrelated phenomena, and much of this work begins through linguis- 
tic metaphors. “If everyday speech is no longer the source of the special- 
ized languages, the linguistic images will be lacking which are necessary 
to make something novel vividly understandable,” noted one frustrated 
German scientist. “Since every language affords a different point ofview 
onto reality and offers individual patterns of argumentation, this leads 
to a spiritual impoverishment if teaching and research are hemmed into 
English.”* 8 ' This resembles the Whorfian hypothesis — that languages 
carve up nature, and we all live in different worlds shot through with 
our native languages — but it is hardly so ambitious. Rather, the claim 
is that insights come more quickly in words that are more familiar. It is, 
simply, a plea for identity. One might also anticipate deleterious conse- 
quences for public policy. It is challenging enough to persuade politi- 
cians to act on scientific, technological, or medical evidence given the 
paucity of public officials with scientific training and the difficulty of 
understanding the nuances of the data. Add to this a language barrier, 
and the situation rapidly worsens . 88 These are problems only for the 
non-Anglophones, but there are burdens on the other side as well, as 
native speakers of English are imposed upon to translate or correct their 
peers’ papers, and locked out of private foreign-language conversations 
between lab -mates and at conferences. 

Does the English language itself suffer when, as is currently the case 
for perhaps the first time in history, nonnative speakers of a living lan- 
guage start to greatly outnumber native speakers ? If you wanted to iso- 
late an effect, science would be a good place to look, because it has been 
Anglophone longer and more completely than any other domain of cul- 
tural endeavor. The “English” that is used in scientific communication — 
particularly in written form, but also quite often in oral interchange — is 
simplified, reduced, stereotyped to highlight communication and mini- 
mize stylistic nuance. German sociologist Wolf Lepenies has called this 
dialect “Englisch II,” which another commentator worries has become 
nothing more than “a practical, reduced communications code .” t89 

*“Wenn die Quelle fur die Fachsprachen nicht mehr die Alltagssprache ist, werden 
die Sprachbilder fehlen, die notig sind, um Neues anschaulich begreiflich zu machen. 
Da jede Sprache einen anderen Blickwinkel auf die Wirklichkeit zulasst und indi- 
viduelle Argumentationsmuster bietet, lauft es auf eine geistige Verarmung hinaus, 
wenn Lehre und Forschung auf das Englische eingeengt werden.” 

+ “ein praktischer, reduzierter Kommunkationscode” 



Imagine one ironic outcome: To the extent Scientific English resembles 
Basic English, and Basic English was dreamed up in part to minimize 
the “pidginization” of English in colonial contexts, Scientific English 
might itself become the pidgin. “Under certain circumstances English 
as a scientific language in non-English-speaking countries would degen- 
erate into a cookie-cutter-language,” linguist Sabine Skudlik observes, 
“in cases where constant feedback from mother-tongue speakers is not 
to be expected. This development would be desirable for nobody .”* 90 
Almost certainly true, if the effect is in fact happening. The reader 
may have noticed that for the last several pages an odd thing has oc- 
curred to this manifestly historical book: we seem to have lost the past 
and moved instead to scientists’ and linguists’ rampant speculations 
about the future, ill-disguised as a conversation about the present. There 
seems no way to talk about Anglophonia in science without willy-nilly 
drifting into ruminations over where this all might lead. Before fully in- 
dulging that impulse, it is important to not lose the central lesson of the 
journey so far: English has attained its current position owing to a series 
of historical transformations that it also in turn shaped, exploiting a 
perception of neutrality that it gained through being distinctly non- 
neutral in either its British or American guise. There is a circularity to 
studying language and history together, scrambling our notions of time 
even in the buttoned-down domain of science. The history of scientific 
languages ends here, until it no longer does. 

*“Unter Umstanden wiirde das Englische als Wissenschaftssprache in den nicht- 
englischsprachigen Landern zu einer Schablonensprache verkiimmern, falls nicht 
eine standige Riickmeldung von Muttersprachlern zu erwarten ist. Diese Entwick- 
lung ware fur niemanden wiinschenswert.” 


Babel Beyond 

Consider a quotation and a story. The quotation comes from Edward 
Sapir, one of America’s leading linguists before the Second World War. 
In 1921, in the midst of the wholesale destruction of the teaching of the 
German language in the United States and an international boycott of 
scientists from the Central Powers, he wrote: 

A scientific truth is impersonal, in its essence it can be untinctured 
by the particular linguistic medium in which it finds expression. It 
can readily deliver its message in Chinese as in English. Neverthe- 
less it must have some expression, and that expression must needs 
be a linguistic one. Indeed the apprehension of the scientific truth 
is itself a linguistic process, for thought is nothing but language 
denuded of its outward garb. The proper medium of scientific ex- 
pression is therefore a generalized language that may be defined as 
a symbolic algebra of which all known languages are translations. 
One can adequately translate scientific literature because the origi- 
nal scientific expression is itself a translation. 1 

The historical record shows that the actual state of affairs is and has 
been — to say the least — more complicated. While it might in principle 
be the case that the same scientific truths hold no matter which lan- 
guage they are expressed in, as a matter of daily experience the choice of 
a specific language has had enormous bearing on the capacity of scientific 
messages to be “readily delivered.” The friction of translation between 
Russian and German powered the priority dispute over the periodic 
system of chemical elements, for example, and replicating Lavoisier’s 
French nomenclature proved problematic both in Swedish and in Rus- 
sian, not to mention Ido and Esperanto. Sapir also put forward a sec- 
ond claim, about a metalanguage of scientific truth, which brings us to 
the story. 

3 i8 


In 1957, H. Beam Piper published “Omnilingual” as one of a collec- 
tion of tales from Astounding Science Fiction. In view of the Cold War 
crisis of scientific language imposed by the deluge of scientific Russian 
pouring into the United States — which prompted new courses in re- 
cently established Slavic departments, witnessed the origins of Machine 
Translation, and finally settled into a steady, and gigantic, cover-to- 
cover translation industry — Piper’s imaginary voyage to Mars assumes 
deeper resonances. 

We do not see the journey in “Omnilingual”; the story begins with a 
crack team of scientists already combing the surface. They encounter the 
remnants of an advanced civilization, long extinct. The group included 
Martha Dane, an archaeologist with a particular fixation: learning to 
read the language of the Martians. Finding markings on the walls that 
she took to be writing, she developed a systematic transliteration into 
the Latin alphabet, transcribing Martian via a syllabary consisting of 
vowel-consonant pairs. Like the astounding “cracking” of Linear B by 
Michael Ventris in the early 1950s — just a few years before Piper put pen 
to paper — Dane hoped to figure out the referents for these signs. Ven- 
tris was aided by some inspired guessing about place names and then 
the surprising discovery, against expectation, that Linear B was simply a 
syllabic rendering of Greek. 2 Dane had no such luck. She needed some- 
thing like a code-book, an analog to the Rosetta Stone, whose inscrip- 
tions in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic Egyptian, and Greek enabled 
Jean-Francois Champollion to become, in 1824, the first human in over 
a millennium to actually read ancient Egyptian script. Sadly, for Martha 
Dane, “There is no Rosetta Stone, not anywhere on Mars.[. . .] Well 
find one. There must be something, somewhere, that will give us the 
meaning of a few words, and well use them to pry meaning out of more 
words, and so on.” 3 But since there could be no possible bilingual text 
between Martian and any Earth language, her colleagues dismissed her 
dream as a fantasy. 

The team entered a massive building, which they speculated must 
have been something like a university. The group split up to explore dif- 
ferent wings, and Dane wandered through rooms, transliterating Mar- 
tian along the way, until she turned a corner and stood struck still by an 
inscription. “There was something familiar about the table on the left 
wall,” the narrator tells us. “She tried to remember what she had been 
taught in school about physics, and what she had picked up by acci- 
dent afterward. The second column was a continuation of the first: there 
were forty-six items in each, each item numbered consecutively — ” 

Babel Beyond 


Dane counted the number of cells, and reached 92. That seemed inter- 
esting. What consisted of 92 items? The number of naturally occurring 
chemical elements, capped by uranium! She started at the top: “Hy- 
drogen was Number One, she knew; One, Sarfaldsorn. Helium was 
Two; that was Tirfaldsorn .” 4 From here on, nothing could stop Dane; 
she had found her Rosetta Stone, and from there could move to other 
scientific “bilinguals” — “astronomical tables, tables in physics and me- 
chanics, for instance — in which words and numbers were equivalent.” 
Most of her teammates were instantly convinced. Yet the leader Selim, 
a scholar of ancient Hittite, expressed some skepticism about the Mar- 
tian Rosetta: “How do you know that their table of elements was any- 
thing like ours ?” The three natural scientists on the team stared at him 
in disbelief. One, Mort Tranter, responded: “That isn’t just the Martian 
table of elements; that’s the table of elements. It’s the only one there is.” 5 
(Dmitrii Mendeleev and Lothar Meyer might have begged to differ.) 
Finally, the colleague who had given Dane the hardest time, Hubert 
Penrose, granted her the highest of praise: “This is better than a bilin- 
gual, Martha. Physical science expresses universal facts; necessarily it is 
a universal language.” 6 

We have come a long way from worries about whether one could 
even do science in Latin rather than Greek, or whether science would 
be destroyed by a Babel of languages. Rather than language serving as a 
barrier to block transmission of science (as the Esperantists and Idists 
argued at the dawn of the twentieth century) or averting Babel through 
the imposition of a unifying natural language (English, say, at the mo- 
ment that I am writing this, or Latin several centuries earlier), we see 
Sapir and Piper, writing on either side of the linguistic chasm of World 
War II, expressing a common assumption: Science isn’t just written in 
language, it is itself a language. Tire continually evolving and dynamic 
history of languages and the science conducted within them indicates 
that this proposition is most likely false, or at least deeply ambivalent. 
Nonetheless, the idea that mathematics or the facts of the physical and 
biological sciences alone might prove a “universal language” is omni- 
present; the idea itself emerges from the rise and fall of Scientific Babels 
across the centuries. To further explore this notion, we must shift our 
gaze away from the past and examine how contemporaries think about 
language and science in our future. 

The most common question along these lines is whether something 
can displace English from its current dominance in the natural sciences 
(and perhaps soon in the social sciences and humanities). All anyone 



can do is guess about the way this situation might evolve, because there 
is no historical precedent for today’s Anglophonia . 7 There are essen- 
tially three ways of thinking through the possibilities. The first is that 
the status quo will continue into the future . 8 This is entirely possible, 
although of course languages change over time, and when someone says 
“English” will continue to be the dominant language of the sciences, 
this allows for both the possibility that the current reduced dialect of 
“scientific English” will persevere and the alternative that scientific En- 
glish will mirror inevitable changes in global English. In the annals of 
science fiction, it takes an apocalypse on the order of global thermo- 
nuclear war, a genetically engineered plague, an alien invasion, or some 
combination of the three to displace English, breaking it up into mutu- 
ally unintelligible daughter languages . 9 

A second view is that scientific English will be replaced by a scientific 
dialect of another language, so that science would remain monoglot, 
just in a different tongue. This was the aspiration of the Esperantists, 
and all the other visionaries who hoped that a constructed auxiliary 
would eliminate the Babel generated by the ethnic languages. Those 
who anticipate this possibility have one candidate in mind: Chinese ! 10 
(They apparently refer to Mandarin Chinese in its Beijing variant. Chi- 
nese is no less fluid and multivariant than English. 11 ) The major argu- 
ment for Chinese being the single language of future science is based 
on population and geopolitical power, yet there are two problems with 
these inferences: one empirical, and the other theoretical. The empirical 
problem is that, despite the rapidly increasing number of Chinese scien- 
tists and engineers, they are actually a major component in the contem- 
porary growth of English, because most of their publications appear in 
that language, not Chinese . 12 The theoretical problem is more to the 
point: why on earth should we expect that science will be monolingual 
in the future ? It certainly was not the case in the past. Even Latin, re- 
call, was not the sole vehicular language in Europe except for the high 
Renaissance. As for reasoning based on population — if that were suf- 
ficient, then surely Spanish would have occupied a place as one of the 
major languages of science. That this has not been the case is telling. 

A widespread, but controversial, way of thinking about linguistic 
diversity is to make an analogy to ecology . 13 A brief reflection brings 
up dozens of examples, ranging from language growth and competi- 
tion, to endangered languages and language death. But languages are 
not precisely analogous to biological species. Languages do not “die” or 
go “extinct”; the native-speaking people using the language do, some- 

Babel Beyond 321 

times violently . 14 The language, if it is documented, can still be used. 
(Witness, again, our old friend Latin.) To those who think of languages 
as functioning in a global ecology, however, the transition to a single 
dominant language for science is a linguistic Green Revolution equiva- 
lent to the eradication of traditional agricultural systems, imposing 
monoculture for the sake of efficiency but potentially imperiling pre- 
cisely the intellectual diversity (shades ofWhorf here!) that can gener- 
ate new scientific ideas . 15 This is an alluring argument, but it is impos- 
sible to evaluate without a sense of how science might have looked had 
English not become the single global scientific language over the past 
half century. Barring a counterfactual crystal ball, we can simply ob- 
serve that an awful lot of science is currently being done, and scientists 
do not seem overly concerned about a dearth of new ideas. Behind this 
worry about monocultures is an abiding worry about monolingualism, 
one which adheres to the assumption that such a state is perhaps inevi- 
table into the distant future. It is, in short, a lament. 

It seems just as, if not more, likely, projecting the past into the future, 
that we will have several languages of science, not one — that if English 
were to lose its dominance, it might follow the pattern of Latin and 
break up into several vehicular languages, while still retaining signifi- 
cant currency. (That would be essential in order to access past second- 
ary literature: as demonstrated by the attempts to preserve German in 
the Cold War, or the retention of Latin long after the onset of the Prot- 
estant Reformation.) One could imagine a future of Chinese, English, 
and Spanish or Portuguese. Would it look so different from our past ? 
There would surely be hand-wringing about the lost position of English, 
new schemes for artificial languages to blend the dominant tongues, 
and a lot of effort expended in language learning and translation. 

All of this assumes, of course, that the history we have seen in this 
book is irreversible. Yet there remain those (although fewer every year) 
who hope that we might be able to re -Babelize science just a smidgen, 
just as far back as restoring the triumvirate of English, French, and Ger- 
man (and skipping, bien sur and natiirlich, impossible languages like 
Russian). To the extent that words are met with deeds in this regard, we 
see an inverse of the Cold War pattern; at that time, the French by and 
large acquiesced to the eclipse of their language as a vehicular tongue 
for science, while the Germans attempted to staunch the damage they 
perceived as caused by Hitler’s regime. Today, there is some backlash 
against English as the sole scientific language within German-speaking 
Europe — the topic surfaces periodically in newspapers, especially as 



it concerns science education in secondary schools — but the state has 
put only limited resources behind promoting German abroad, and 
German-speaking scientists continue to publish in English . 16 

In France you are more likely to come across metaphors of cultural 
genocide: “It would be a national drama of incalculable consequences 
to remove from the French language its character as a scientific lan- 
guage .”* 17 Despite the obvious fact that most Francophone scientists 
today are publishing in English, a discourse of resistance (often hark- 
ening back to the public mythology of the French Resistance against 
the Nazis) crops up fairly regularly . 18 While French truly is the only 
language besides English to have a global reach and a distinguished, 
centuries-long tradition in the natural sciences, nonetheless a French 
author trades communication for identity when she publishes in her 
native language — with certain notable exceptions . 19 Mathematics 
is a field where publication in French is still quite common. Faurent 
Fafforgue — winner of the 2002 Fields Medal — notes that French math 
is so strong that people will still read French to get at it; in fact, “it is 
to the degree that the French mathematical school remains attached to 
French that it conserves its originality and its force. A contmrio , France’s 
weaknesses in certain scientific disciplines could be ascribed to linguis- 
tic dereliction .” 1 20 Tire richness of metaphor and quickness of thought 
in one’s native language enable creative work; identity should not be 
sacrificed without a fight. Yet dialing the hands of the clock back to the 
mid-nineteenth century seems extremely improbable. 

The alternative is less likely to be full-blown multilingual publication 
than computer-mediated Machine Translation among several differ- 
ent tongues. In January 2012, former President of Harvard University, 
Fawrence Summers, famously dismissed “the substantial investment 
necessary to speak a foreign tongue” as not “universally worthwhile” 
given “English’s emergence as a global language, along with the rapid 
progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages 
spoken worldwide .” 21 Bypassing the non sequitur of how global frag- 
mentation of languages would aid communication, Summers’s point 
about MT seems to many a reasonable solution to the tensions explored 

" “Ce serait un drame national aux consequences incalculables que d’enlever a la 
langue fran^aise son caractere de langue scientifique.” 

^“c’est dans la mesure oil lecole mathematique fran^aise reste attachee au fran^ais 
quelle conserve son originalite et sa force. A contmrio , les faiblesses de la France dans 
certains disciplines scientifiques pourraient etre liees au delaissement linguistique.” 

Babel Beyond 


in this book: you can keep your identity by using your native tongue, 
and let computers take care of the communication. When we last left 
MT, it had collapsed into disgrace following the disappointed censure 
of the ALPAC report of 1966. Obviously, a lot has changed in the digi- 
tal world since then. In particular, the single greatest roadblock for 
Leon Dostert’s brand of MT — the scarcity of memory — has vanished. 
Memory has become dirt cheap. The speed of computation, expressed 
in the frenetically doubling euphoria of “Moore’s Law” — which enthu- 
siasts for an MT-utopia believe will continue indefinitely — has enabled 
completely different statistical approaches to computerized translation 
of natural languages, such as Google Translate, which relies not on an 
algorithmic decision-tree but on brute-force statistical comparison. 22 
To casual observers, it looks like the language barrier is a thing of the 
past; computers are no longer “English-only,” and even though com- 
puter languages and the language of computer science are dominated 
by English, the monolingual stranglehold on this area appears to be 
weakening. 23 Yet it seems less than certain that problems of Scientific 
Babel, and its current solution in English, can or will be transcended 
through these means. The significant challenges of access to computing 
technology in the poorer regions of the world probably matter less for 
the admittedly elite community of scientists, but the substantial infra- 
structure of education and publication already extant in English does 
likely entail that continuing to learn English will be more economical 
than translating everything multiple times among several thousand lan- 
guages. There is a yet deeper difficulty with Summers’s vision, which 
concerns how statistical MT actually works. Push a little harder on 
Google Translate, and one thing is evident: it is utterly dependent on 
human translation to provide the bilingual texts for statistical compari- 
son. Hidden beneath our current MT, in other words, is more cover-to- 
cover. Plus f, a change. 

Set aside the future, and let’s return to the present on our way back 
to the past. Both Sapir and Piper insisted upon the idea that science 
itself — whether expressed in terms of mathematics or purely in the 
sense impressions beloved of Logical Positivists in interwar Vienna — 
can serve as a kind of language to enable communication. Scientists are 
currently (and have been for fifty years) operationalizing this postu- 
late into the foundation of one of the most breathtakingly visionary 
of contemporary scientific ventures: the Search for Extra-Terrestrial 
Intelligence (SETI). For the purposes of the subfield, “intelligence” is 
essentially synonymous with “ability to communicate,” in part for epis- 



temological reasons: we search for life in the cosmos by monitoring 
various frequency bands in all directions that are deemed to be the most 
likely carrier waves for deliberate interstellar communication; that im- 
plies that making contact is identical to receiving a message. This is, in 
short, a judgment about language. 24 

A fundamental postulate of SETI is that the intellectual problems 
that we have in composing a message for the heavens and understand- 
ing an incoming one are symmetric. That is, if we have difficulty assem- 
bling a text that can be understood as a message in language by intelli- 
gent beings that share neither our genetic capacities for tongues or any 
of the historical flotsam and jetsam of our present-languages, then so 
will the aliens. The quest quickly reduces to finding a metalanguage be- 
yond our contingent languages and then monitoring the skies for any 
messages that might be broadcast in such a metalanguage. Already in 
1921, Edward Sapir suggested that science might be that medium. Or, 
as expressed by a leading SETI practitioner in 2010: “By common con- 
sent, mathematics, being culturally neutral and forming the basis of the 
universal laws of nature, would be the lingua franca of interstellar dis- 



This scientific-mathematical linguistic assumption — that is, that sci- 
ence and mathematics are a language — brings us to one fitting place to 
close this history of the languages in which modern science has been 
done. SETI is science being pursued today across the globe for the pur- 
poses of transcending an even more ineradicable language barrier than 
that which confronted Wilhelm Ostwald or Lise Meitner or Antoine 
Lavoisier in the past. There are, of course, thousands of objections that 
one might level at this enterprise, including the obvious fact that we 
have not yet figured out how to communicate terribly effectively with 
relatively intelligent animals occupying our own planet, not to mention 
other humans who share your scientific mindset and disciplinary train- 
ing but happen to have been born in, say, Prague instead of San Fran- 
cisco. 26 But rather than closing this book with a recitation of problems 
and rebuttals, let us return to the history of science. 

In 1 9 60, a Dutch mathematician named Hans Freudenthal published 
(in English, of course) the last constructed language we will take up in 
this volume, dubbed “Lincos” (for “Lingua Cosmica,” a nod to Latin). 
If SETI scientists were looking for a likely interstellar signal, Freuden- 
thal proffered the text — or at least the language in which such a text 
could be written. This was a language expressed through symbols and 
devoid of all of the features of either “natural” or “artificial” ones (Freu- 

Babel Beyond 


denthal’s terms) besides semantics. This was a language about conveying 
meaning-, everything else was superfluous. Yet even Freudenthal would 
not go so far as to think of mathematics as a language in itself: “It is true 
that mathematical language as written in textbooks still parasitizes on 
natural languages. The text surrounding the mathematical formulas is 
usually written in an idiom that bears the characteristics of the vernacu- 
lar, to which it belongs in the ordinary sense .” 27 But he needed to get 
beyond vernacular, to convey “in principle the whole bulk of our knowl- 
edge,” not just selected proofs. Lincos would be considered understood 
by the recipient if he (Freudenthal’s choice of pronoun) could “operate 
on it,” manipulate it to generate other phrases in it — a decent enough 
definition of scientific language, come to think of it . 28 Lincos, in being 
communicated, taught itself through itself, building on “facts which 
may be supposed to be known to the receiver .” 29 

What might those be? Carl Sagan and Iosif Shklovskii — guiding 
spirits of American and Soviet SETI, respectively — praised Freuden- 
thal’s efforts with Lincos and speculated about how precisely we might 
begin our Lincos messages. Pictures might be best, assuming that vision 
was a reasonably likely evolutionary trait no matter where you were in 
the universe, and there was one picture that seemed particularly apt. 
“For example, Mendeleyev’s periodic system of the elements could be 
pictured, accompanied by the corresponding words in Lincos,” they 
wrote. “The number and distribution of electrons, of course, would in- 
dicate the nature of the atom. Then, a graph of the number of protons 
in the nucleus versus the number of neutrons could be transmitted. By 
this time, the cosmic discourse is well along into atomic and nuclear 

Would Mendeleev and Meyer, who wrangled about which words 
could and should properly characterize the periodic system in Russian 
and German, be flattered or flummoxed that the system they fought 
over was now understood to be beyond language, beyond Earth? Is the 
idea so strange? H. Beam Piper imagined Martha Dane communicat- 
ing with dead aliens by using lists of elements. We can indeed picture 
such an eventuality in a time far in the future, or on a world millions of 
miles away. Yet for the present, as in the past, we remain bound to the 
constraints of history, to the shackles of the words in human languages: 
untranslatable yet intelligible, frustrating yet infinitely beguiling. 


This book has been in progress — in some form or another, often with- 
out my being conscious that I was obsessed with the history of scientific 
languages — for over fifteen years, and the list of debts accumulated in 
that span is proportionately large. I am unlikely to be comprehensive in 
my expression of gratitude here, but I will try. 

First, I would like to extend my thanks to the archivists, librari- 
ans, and historians who made the materials for this history available: 
Joe Anderson and Greg Good at the Niels Bohr Library at the Center 
for the History of Physics; Marc Rothenberg at the National Science 
Foundation; Lynn Conway at Georgetown University Archives; Vera 
Enke at the Berlin-Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften; Bernd 
Hoffmann at the Archives of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaff; Winifred 
Schultze at the Archives of Humboldt University in Berlin; Irene 
Jentzch, Gerd Walter, and Birgit Rehse at the Archives of the Freie Uni- 
versitat in Berlin; and the very helpful staff at the Esperantomuseum at 
the Austrian National Library in Vienna, at the National Archives and 
Records Administration in College Park, at the Library of Congress, 
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Special Collections, and 
at Princeton University’s indispensible Article Express and Interlibrary 
Loan offices. I am especially grateful to Igor S. Dmitriev at the Archive- 
Museum of D. I. Mendeleev and the archivists in St. Petersburg, Russia, 
where this project began during the past century. 

The research and writing of this project were supported by the gen- 
erosity of Princeton University as well as two external funding agencies 
(the National Endowment for Humanities, grant 72879 in 2010, and 
the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 2011), which 
provided me with the time away from academic obligations to com- 
plete the writing. 

Parts of four chapters of this book were published as scholarly articles, 
and I acknowledge the journals who printed them and their granting 



of the right to republish some of that material here, in revised form: 
“Translating Textbooks: Russian, German, and the Language of Chem- 
istry,” Isis 103 (2012): 88-98; “The Table and the Word: Translation, Pri- 
ority, and the Periodic System of Chemical Elements,” Ab Imperio, no. 3 
(2013): 53-82; and “The Dostoevsky Machine in Georgetown: Scien- 
tific Translation in the Cold War,” Annals of Science 72 (forthcoming 

This book benefitted enormously from conversations with dozens 
of colleagues and friends, many of whom were generous enough with 
their time to read part or all of the manuscript. Among their number 
are Mitchell Ash, Melinda Baldwin, Michael Barany, Deborah Coen, 
Angela Creager, Lorraine Daston, Peter Galison, Yael Geller, Katja 
Guenther, Evan Hepler- Smith, Matthewjones, Simeon Koole, Robert 
MacGregor, Patrick McCray, Projit Mukharji, Carla Nappi, Matthew 
Stanley, Jennifer Tomlinson, Daniel Trambaiolo, and Keith Wailoo. 
Ulrich Ammon, David Bellos, David Kaiser, Jan Surman, Marc Volo- 
vici, and Nasser Zakariya provided detailed comments on the entirety 
of the manuscript, and I accommodated their very astute comments 
as much as I was able. I am particularly grateful to Joshua Katz’s guid- 
ance throughout this project; my capacity to say anything reasonable 
about language owes much to conversations and co-teaching with him 
throughout the conception and writing of this book. 

Over the past few years, I have presented elements of this argument 
at talks at several institutions, and gained a good deal from the criti- 
cal feedback at those events. I would like to thank the participants at 
the seminars and colloquia at Vanderbilt University (especially Paul 
Kramer, Ole Molvig, and Leor Halevi), the Penn Humanities Forum, 
Dartmouth University, New York University (especially Ken Alder and 
Myles Jackson), the University of Vienna, the Princeton Society of Fel- 
lows, the Princeton History Department Works-in-Progress series, the 
University of Wisconsin-Madison’s History of Science Department and 
the Mellon T3 workshop, Harvard University, Indiana University, the 
Chemical Heritage Foundation, the University of California-Berkeley, 
the University of British Columbia, the Zentrum fur Literatur- und 
Kulturforschung in Berlin, and the European University in St. Peters- 

The final stages of writing coincided with my term as the inaugural 
Director of the Fung Global Fellows Program at the Princeton Institute 
for International and Regional Studies, a year of collaborative discus- 
sions and seminars that centered around the topic of “Languages and 



Authority.” I owe an enormous debt to Beate Witzler, who made this 
environment of intensive study of languages possible, and to the first 
cohort of Fung Global Fellows, who sharpened many of my thoughts 
and arguments: Adam Clulow, Fielder De Schutter, David E. Kiwuwa, 
Pritipuspa Mishra, Brigitte Rath, and YingYingTan. 

Carsten Reinhardt and Arika Okrent refereed this manuscript for 
University of Chicago Press; I have always learned much from their 
writings, and am even happier to have had the benefit of their critical 
counsel on an earlier version of this text. My editor at University of Chi- 
cago Press, Karen Merikangas Darling, has been especially supportive 
of this project throughout its gestation. Levi Stahl and Mary Corrado 
in turn helped tame the manuscript and transform it into the present 
book. Meg Jacobs brought this project to the attention of the Wylie 
Agency, who in turn introduced it to Andrew Franklin at Profile Books. 
I thank all of them. 

As always, my greatest debt is to Erika Milam, who has patiently lis- 
tened to more half-baked ideas than anyone should ever be exposed to, 
and always had the discernment to point me in the right direction. 

Finally, I would like to dedicate this book to all those who have 
taught me languages. It is a long list, only incompletely presented here. I 
hadn’t always appreciated the dedication and persistence that you dem- 
onstrated in showing me the richness of speech, but I assure you that 
I do now. Sadly, I have been unable to reconstruct all your names, but 
at the very least I would like to explicitly thank those I could: Yelena 
Baraz, Natalia Chirkov, Maria Garcia, Nora Hampl, David Keily, James 
Lavine, and Sharon Muster. For those who are missing, I apologize; I 
assure you my gratitude is undiminished. I cannot, of course, omit my 
first and most important language teachers: Gila and Rafael Gordin. 
All of you have given me the greatest of gifts, and these words are but 
poor compensation for that. 


The notes make reference to several archival collections, sometimes in abbreviated 
form. The full citations to all archives are presented here, with their accompanying 
abbreviation, when necessary. 


Esperantomuseum of the Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Herrengasse 9, 1010 


[AMPG] Archives of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, BoltzmannstraBe 14, 14195 

[BBAW] Archives of the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 
Jagerstrafie 22, 10117 Berlin. 

[FUA] University Archives of the Freie Universitat zu Berlin, Malteserstrafie 
74-100, Bldg. L, 12249 Berlin. 

[HBA] Hofbibliothek und Stiftsbibliothek Aschaffenburg, Hugo-Dingler Stiftung, 
SchloBplatz 4, 63769 Aschaffenburg. 

[HUA] Archives of the Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Eichborndamm 113, 13403 


[ADIM] Archive-Museum of D. I. Mendeleev, St. Petersburg State University, Men- 
deleevskaia liniia 2, St. Petersburg 199034. 

[PFARAN] St.-Peterburg Branch of the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sci- 
ences, Universitetskaia nab. 1, St. Petersburg 199034. 

[TsGIASPb] Central State Historical Archive of St. Petersburg, Pskovskaia ulitsa 18, 
St. Petersburg 190121. 

[, ZhRFKhO ] Zhurnal Russkogo Fiziko-Khimicheskogo Obshchestva [Journal of the 
Russian Physico-Chemical Society]. 

United States of America 

[AEDA] Albert Einstein Duplicate Archive, Princeton University Library, Rare 

332. List of Archives 

Books and Special Collections, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 

[AIP] Niels Bohr Library and Archives, American Institute of Physics, 1 Physics 
Ellipse Drive, College Park, Maryland 20740. 

[APSL] American Philosophical Society Library, 105 S. 5th Street, Philadelphia, 
Pennsylvania 19106. 

[GUA] Georgetown University Archives, Lauinger Library, Georgetown University, 
3700 O Street NW, Washington, DC 20057. 

[-SLL] School of Languages and Linguistics 
[-MTP] Machine Translation Papers 

[LOC] Library of Congress Manuscript Division, 101 Independence Avenue SE, 
Room LM 101, James Madison Memorial Building, Washington, DC 20540. 
[MIT] Massachusetts Institute of Technology Archives and Special Collections, 
Building 14N-118, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139. 

[NARA] National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, Col- 
lege Park, Maryland 20740. 



1. Jean Le Rond D’Alembert, Discours preliminaire de VEncyclopedie , ed. Michel 
Malherbe (Paris: J. Vrin, 2000), 137. 

2. The invisibility of translation (and translators) is the central point in Lawrence 
Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation, 2d ed. (London: Rout- 
ledge, 2002 [1995]). See also David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and 
the Meaning of Everything (New York: Faber and Faber, 2011). Although most works 
in translation studies focus on humanistic or literary translation, there is no reason 
to believe that the general issues do not also apply in the sciences. See I. J. Citroen, 
“The Myth of the Two Professions: Literary and Non-Literary Translation,” Babel 11 
(1965): 181-188. 

3. On medicine, see John Maher, “The Development of English as an Interna- 
tional Language of Medicine,” Applied Linguistics 7 (1986): 206-218. 

4. On the particular difficulties of “Wissenschaft” in German, see Denise Phillips, 
Acolytes of Nature: Defining Natural Science in Germany, iyyo-i8$o (Chicago: Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press, 2012), 4. 

5. On the equivalent trends in the social sciences, see Abram De Swaan, “English 
in the Social Sciences,” in Ulrich Ammon, ed., The Dominance of English as a Lan- 
guage of Science: Effects on Other Languages and Language Communities (Berlin: Mou- 
ton de Gruyter, 2001), 71-83; Ulrich Ammon, “Kaum noch ein Prozent Weltanteil in 
den Naturwissenschaften: Uber Deutsch als Wissenschaftssprache,” Forschung und 
Lehre (June 2010): 318-320, on 319. 

6. I build gratefully on earlier scholarship on these questions. Most of it, with 
the exception of Scott L. Montgomery, Science in Translation: Movements of Knowl- 
edge through Cultures and Time (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), has 
approached the issue of language barriers and language spread in the sciences from 
a more sociological viewpoint, not a historical one. A partial list of the most impor- 
tant works includes Ammon, The Dominance of English as a Language of Science ; J. A. 
Large, The Foreign-Language Barrier: Problems in Scientific Communication (London: 
Andre Deutsch, 1983); Conseil de la langue fran^aise, Gouvernement du Quebec, Le 
fran$ais et les langues scientifiques de demain: Actes du colloque tenu a TUniversite du 
Quebec a Montreal du 19 au 21 mars 1996 (Quebec, Canada: Gouvernment du Quebec, 
1996); Sabine Skudlik, Sprachen in den Wissensch often: Deutsch und Englisch in der 
internationalen Kommunikation (Tubingen: Gunter Narr, 1990); and Hubert Fon- 


Notes to Pages 4-10 

din, “La langue de la publication scientifique: la preponderance de l’anglais et la re- 
cherche,” Documentation et bibliotheques (June 1979): 59-69. 

7. This problem has been the central concern of the entire theoretical field of her- 
meneutics. For an especially clear introduction, see Naoki Sakai, Translation and 
Subjectivity: On ‘Japan and Cultural Nationalism (Minneapolis: University of Min- 
nesota Press, 1997), 1-17. 

8. Clarence Augustus Manning, “Language and International Affairs,” Sewanee 
Review 32, no. 3 (July 1924): 295-311, on 296. 

9. A corollary of this point is that all contemporary scientists except Anglo- 
phones have to be bilingual, and even native Anglophones have to use a highly spe- 
cialized and stereotyped scientific English, which makes them diglossic. On the 
notion of “diglossia” — typically used to refer to related dialects/languages stratified 
by class (Swiss-German/German, Haitian-Creole/French) — see the classic essay by 
Charles A. Ferguson, “Diglossia,” Word 15 (1959): 325-340. On the general preva- 
lence of multilingual rather than monoglot behavior, see John McWhorter, The 
Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language (New York: Perennial, 2001), 63; and 
Craig Calhoun, Nationalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 
19 . 41 - 

10. Derek J. de Sofia Price, Science since Babylon , enlarged ed. (New Haven: Yale 
University Press, 1975 [1961]). 

11. Minoru Tsunoda, “Les langues internationales dans les publications scien- 
tifiques et techniques,” Sophia Linguistica (1983): 70-79. 

12. Rainer Enrique Hamel, “The Dominance of English in the International Sci- 
entific Periodical Literature and the Future of Language Use in Science,” AILA Re- 
view 20 (2007): 53-71, on 63; and J. Garrido, “Scientific and Technical Publications 
in the Lesser Known Languages,” Science East to West 5, no. 14 (April 1964): 1-6, on 2. 

13. For some studies which use language in this more metaphorical sense, see 
Matthias Dorries, “Language as a Tool in the Sciences,” in Dorries, ed., Experiment- 
ing in Tongues: Studies in Science and Language (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 
2002): 1-20; Peter Galison, “Trading Zone: Coordinating Action and Belief,” in 
Mario Biagioli, ed., The Science Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 1999): 137— 
160; Theodore H. Savory, The Language of Science: Its Growth, Character, and Usage 
(London: Andre Deutsch, 1953); and Maurice P. Crosland, Historical Studies in the 
Language of Chemistry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962). 

14. I also manage Spanish, Modern Hebrew, and some Czech, but those are, for 
reasons this book addresses, not dominant scientific languages. 

15. On the essential distinction between written and spoken competence, see Sku- 
dlik, Sprachen in den Wissenschaften , 25; and Herbert Newhard Shenton, Cosmopoli- 
tan Conversation: The Language Problems of International Conferences (New York: 
Columbia University Press, 1933). 

1 6. Ralph A. Lewin and David K. Jordan, “The Predominance of English and the 
Potential Use of Esperanto for Abstracts of Scientific Articles,” in M. Kageyama, K. 
Nakamura, T. Oshima, and T. Uchida, eds., Science and Scientists: Essays by Biochem- 
ists, Biologists, and Chemists (Tokyo: Japan Scientific Societies Press, 1981): 435-441, 
on 438. The results are very robust. See, for example, Ulrich Ammon, “Linguistic In- 
equality and Its Effects on Participation in Scientific Discourse and on Global Knowl- 
edge Accumulation — With a Closer Look at the Problems of the Second- Rank Lan- 

Notes to Pages 11-1$ 


guage Communities,” Applied Linguistics Review 3, no. 2 (2012): 333-355; Large, The 
Foreign-Language Barrier , 32; Graham K. L. Chan, “The Foreign Language Barrier 
in Science and Technology,” International Library Review 8 (1976): 317-325, on 321- 
322; and C. M. Louttit, “The Use of Foreign Languages by Psychologists, Chemists, 
and Physicists,” American Journal of Psychology 70, no. 2 (June 1957): 314-316. 

17. Richard B. Baldauf, Jr. and Bjorn H. Jernudd, “Language of Publications as 
a Variable in Scientific Communication,” Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 6 
(1983): 97-108, on 97. 

18. Savory, The Language of Science, 113; a similar statement occurs on p. 107. 

19. See, for example, Hans Niels Jahnke and Michael Otte, “On ‘Science as a Lan- 
guage,’” in Jahnke and Otte, eds., Epistemological and Social Problems of the Sciences in 
the Early Nineteenth Century (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1981): 75-89. 

20. Sundar Sarukkai, Translating the World: Science and Language (Lanham, MD: 
University Press of America, 2002), 7; Montgomery, Science in Translation, 254. 

21. S. Chandrasekhar, Newtons Principia for the Common Reader (Oxford: Claren- 
don Press, 1995), 36. 

22. Isaac Newton, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 
tr. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1999), 700. Emphasis in original. 

23. Isaac Newton, Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, 2d ed. (Cam- 
bridge, 1713), 571. 

24. On multilingualism among mathematicians in this period, see Jeremy J. Gray, 
“Languages for Mathematics and the Language of Mathematics in a World of Na- 
tions,” in Karen Hunger Parshall and Adrian C. Rice, eds., Mathematics Unbound: 
The Evolution of an International Mathematical Research Community, 1800-194$ 
(Providence: American Mathematical Society and London Mathematical Society, 
2002): 201-228. 

25. Henri Poincare, Sechs Vortrdge uber ausgewdhlte Gegenstande aus der reinen 
Mathematik und mathematischen Physik, auf Einladung der Wolfskehl-Kommission 
der Koniglichen G es ells ch aft der Wissenschaften gehalten zu Gottingen vom 22.-28. April 
1909 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1910), 51 . 1 thank Michael Barany for bringing this cita- 
tion to my attention. 

26. I call this view “Whorfian” rather than the “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis,” be- 
cause it is not at all clear that Whorf ’s teacher, the distinguished linguist Edward 
Sapir, actually held it. On the history of the hypothesis, see John E. Joseph, “The 
Immediate Sources of the ‘Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis,’” Historiographia Linguistica 23, 
no. 3 (1996): 365-404. 

27. Benjamin Lee Whorf, “Science and Linguistics,” Technology Review 42 (1940), 
reproduced in John B. Carroll, ed., Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings 
of Benjamin Lee Whorf (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956), 214. 

28. For a summary of the data, see Paul Kay and Willett Kempton, “What Is 
the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?,” American Anthropologist 86 (1984): 65-79. Guy 
Deutscher, in Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other 
Languages (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010), argues for some Whorfian 
effects. The arguments pro and con are usefully and impartially parsed in G. E. R. 
Lloyd, Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity and Diversity of the Human Mind 
(Oxford: Clarendon, 2007). 

29. See, for example, Jessica Riskin, “Rival Idioms for a Revolutionized Science 


Notes to Pages 16-18 

and a Republican Citizenry,” Isis 89 (1998): 203-232; Lissa Roberts, “Condillac, 
Lavoisier, and the Instrumentalization of Science,” Eighteenth Century 33 (1992): 
252-271; idem, “A Word and the World: The Significance of Naming the Calorime- 
ter,” Isis 82, no. 2 (June 1991): 198-222; Trevor H. Levere, “Lavoisier: Language, In- 
struments, and the Chemical Revolution,” in Levere and William R. Shea, eds., Na- 
ture, Experiment, and the Sciences (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1990): 207-223; 
and Marco Beretta, The Enlightenment of Matter: The Definition of Chemistry from 
Agricola to Lavoisier (Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 1993). For a general 
survey of the varied historiography of this episode, see John G. McEvoy, The Histori- 
ography of the Chemical Revolution: Patterns of Interpretation in the History of Science 
(London: Pickering & Chatto, 2010). 

30. Antoine Lavoisier, “Memoire sur la necessite de reformer et de perfectionner 
la nomenclature de la chimie,” in CEuvres de Lavoisier (Paris: 1864-1893): V:354- 
364, on 356. 

31. See, among others, Marc Fumaroli, When the World Spoke French, tr. Richard 
Howard (New York: New York Review Books, 2011 [2001]). 

32. David C. Gordon, The French Language and National Identity (1930-197$) 
(Tbe Hague: Mouton, 1978), 22-27. 

33. Fumaroli, When the World Spoke French, xviii. 

34. Gordon, The French Language and National Identity, 35; R. E. Keller, The Ger- 
man Language ([Atlantic Highlands], NJ: Humanities Press, 1978), 486. 

35. Comte de Rivarol, L’Universalite de la langue frangaise (Paris: Arlea, 1991 
[1784]), 27. 

36. On Schwab, see Edwin H. Zeydel, “A Criticism of the German Language and 
Literature by a German of the Eighteenth Century,” Modern Language Notes 38, no. 4 
(April 1923): 193-201; idem, “Johann Christoph Schwab on the Relative Merits of 
the European Languages,” Philological Quarterly 3 (1924): 285-301; and Freeman G. 
Henry, “From the First to the Fifth Republic: Antoine de Rivarol, Johann Christoph 
Schwab, and the Latest ‘Lingua Franca,’” French Review 77, no. 2 (December 2003): 

37. Rivarol, L’Universalite de la langue fran$aise, 72-73. Emphasis in original. 

38. J. C. Schwab, Le Grand Concours: “ Dissertation sur les causes de I’universalite de 
la langue fran$aise et la duree vraisemblable de son empire,” tr. Denis Robelot, ed. Free- 
man G. Henry (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005), 142. 

39. David A. Bell, “Lingua Populi, Lingua Dei: Language, Religion, and the Ori- 
gins of French Revolutionary Nationalism,” American Historical Review 100, no. 5 
(December 1995): 1403-1437; idem, The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing 
Nationalism, 1680-1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), chap- 
ter 6; Patrice L.-R. Higonnet, “Tbe Politics of Linguistic Terrorism and Grammati- 
cal Hegemony during the French Revolution,” Social History 5, no. 1 (January 1980): 
41-69; Peter Flaherty, “ Langue nationale/langue naturelle: The Politics of Linguis- 
tic Uniformity during the French Revolution,” Historical Reflections/Reflexions his- 
toriques 14, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 311-328; Martyn Lyons, “Politics and Patois: The 
Linguistic Policy of the French Revolution,” Australian fournal of French Studies 18 
(1981): 264-281; and Jean-Yves Lartichaux, “Linguistic Politics during the French 
Revolution,” Diogenes 25 (1977): 65-84. 

Notes to Pages 18-24 


40. Robert E. Schofield, The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life 
and Work from 1753 to 1773 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 
1997). 79-80, 232. 

41. Maurice Crosland, In the Shadow of Lavoisier: The Annales de Chimie and the 
Establishment of a New Science (Oxford: Alden Press, 1994), 88. 

42. Arthur Donovan, Antoine Lavoisier: Science , Administration and Revolution 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 30. 

43. J. B. Gough, “Lavoisier’s Early Career in Science: An Examination of Some 
New Evidence,” British Journal for the History of Science 4, no. 1 (June 1968): 52-57; 
McEvoy, The Historiography of the Chemical Revolution , 98. See also J. B. Gough, 
“Lavoisier and the Fulfillment of the Stahlian Revolution,” Osiris 4 (1988): 15-33. 

44. Donovan, Antoine Lavoisier, 95; Henry Guerlac, Lavoisier — The Crucial Year: 
The Background and Origin of His First Experiments on Combustion in 1772 (Ithaca: 
Cornell University Press, 1961), 13, 15-16, 28, 52, 65. 

45. Robert E. Schofield, The Enlightened Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and 
Work from 1773 to 1804 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 

46. Jan Golinski, “The Chemical Revolution and the Politics of Language,” Eigh- 
teenth Century 33, no. 3 (1992): 238-251, on 241; Jean-Pierre Poirier, Lavoisier: Chem- 
ist, Biologist, Economist, tr. Rebecca Balinski (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylva- 
nia Press, 1996 [1993]), 180. Madame Lavoisier also translated Italian commentaries 
on chemistry for her husband, as discussed in Marco Beretta, “Italian Translations 
of the Methode de Nomenclature Chimique and the Traite Elementaire de Chimie : The 
Case of Vincenzo Dandolo,” in Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Ferdinando Abbri, 
eds., Lavoisier in European Context: Negotiating a New Language for Chemistry (Can- 
ton, MA: Science History Publications, 1995): 225-247, on 228. 

47. Translator’s preface to Richard Kirwan, Essai sur le phlogistique, et sur la con- 
stitution des acides, traduit de Tanglois de M. Kirwan; avec des notes de MM. de Mor- 
veau, Lavoisier, de la Place, Monge, Berthollet, & de Fourcroy (Paris: Rue et Hotel Ser- 
pente, 1788), vii. 

48. Donovan, Antoine Lavoisier, 175. 

49. Bensaude-Vincent and Abbri, Lavoisier in European Context ; Crosland, His- 
torical Studies in the Language of Chemistry, 191, 208-209; Beretta, The Enlightenment 
of Matter, 302-303, 319. 

50. Albert Leon Guerard,^4 Short History of the International Language Movement 
(London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1922), 88. 

Chapter One 

1. Lucretius, De rerum natura, ed. W. H. D. Rouse and Martin Ferguson Smith 
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992 [1924]), L136-139. 

2. This litmus-test quality is nicely observed in Leslie Dunton-Downer, The En- 
glish Is Coming! How One Language Is Sweeping the World (New York: Touchstone, 
2010), 200. For those who see English as functioning very much like Latin, see Roger 
Balian, “Le physicien fran^ais et ses langages de communication,” in Conseil de la 
langue fran^aise, Gouvernement du Quebec, Le fran$ais et les langues scientifiques de 
demain: Actes du colloque tenu a TUniversite du Quebec a Montreal du 19 au 21 mars 


Notes to Pages 25-28 

1996 (Quebec, Canada: Gouvernment du Quebec, 1996): 43-53, on 43; Clarence 
Augustus Manning, “Language and International Affairs,” Sewanee Review 32, no. 3 
(July 1924): 295-311, on 309; and James Clackson and Geoffrey Horrocks, The Black- 
well History of the Latin Language (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 77. For schol- 
ars who dispute the analogy, see Sabine Skudlik, Sprachen in den Wissenschaften: 
Deutsch undEnglisch in der internationalen Kommunikation (Tubingen: Gunter Narr, 
1990), 9-io; and Hanno Helbling, “Aspekte des Verhaltnisses von Wissenschaft und 
Sprache,” in Hartwig Kalverkamper and Harald Weinrich, eds., Deutsch als Wissen- 
schaft sspr ache: 25. Konstanzer Liter aturgesprach des Buchhandels, 198$ (Tubingen: 
Gunter Narr, 1986): 151-153, on 152. 

3. On the terminological issues associated with “universal languages” and “lingua 
franca,” among other categories, see Ulrich Ammon, “International Languages,” in 
R. E. Asher, ed., The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics , vol. 4 (Oxford: Perga- 
mon Press, 1994): 1725-1730; Conrad M. B. Brann, “Lingua Minor, Franca & Natio- 
nalist in Ulrich Ammon, ed., Status and Function of Languages and Language Vari- 
eties (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989): 372-385; Henry Kahane and Renee Kahane, 
“ Lingua Franca : The Story of a Term,” Romance Philology 30 (August 1976): 25-41; 
and Nicholas Ostler, The Last Lingua Franca: English until the Return of Bah el (New 
York: Walker, 2010). On English as Latin rather than a lingua franca, see Hans 
Joachim Meyer, “Global English — a New Lingua Franca or a New Imperial Culture?,” 
in Andreas Gardt and Bernd Hiippauf, eds., Globalization and the Future of German 
(Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2004): 65-84, on 72-73. 

4. The history of Latin is very well documented, thanks to a continuous tradition 
of writing dating from antiquity and the assiduousness of generations of scholars. 
For a more formal study, see Clackson and Horrocks, The Blackwell History of the 
Latin Language ; and L. R. Palmer, The Latin Language (London: Faber and Faber, 
[19 54 ]). For more accessible accounts, see Nicholas Ostler, Ad Infinitum: A Biogra- 
phy of Latin (New York: Walker, 2007); Joseph B. Solodow, Latin Alive: The Survival 
of Latin in English and the Romance Languages (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 2010); and Tore Janson, A Natural History of Latin (New York: Oxford Univer- 
sity Press, 2004). I draw extensively from all of these. 

5. On this question, see J. N. Adams, The Regional Diversification of Latin 200 BC- 
AD 600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 

6. Clackson and Horrocks, The Blackwell History of the Latin Language , 79. 

7. J. N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 2003); Clackson and Horrocks, The Blackwell History of the Latin 
Language , 189; Erich Auerbach, Literary Language and Its Public in Late Latin An- 
tiquity and in the Middle Ages, tr. Ralph Manheim (Princeton: Princeton University 
Press, 1965 [1958]), 248-249. 

8. Geoffrey Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers, 2d. ed. 
(Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010 [1997]), no; William V. Harris, Ancient Liter- 
acy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 175; L. D. Reynolds and N. G. 
Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Litera- 
ture, 3d. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991 [1968]), 55. 

9. I choose not to provide the diacritic over the “e,” but readers should be aware 
that many accounts do, and that the word is pronounced with two syllables. 

10. Bruno Rochette, Le latin dans le monde grec: Recherches sur la diffusion de la 

Notes to Pages 28-31 


langue et des lettres latines dans les provinces hellenophones de VEmpire romain (Brus- 
sels: Latomus, 1997), especially 70 and 139. 

11. On Latin and early Christianity, see Christine Mohrmann, Latin vulgaire, 
Latin des chretiens (Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1952). 

12. This quotation is from J. M. Millas-Vallicrosa, “Translations of Oriental Sci- 
entific Works (to the End of the Thirteenth Century),” tr. Daphne Woodward, in 
Guy S. Metraux and Francis Crouzet, eds., Evolution of Science: Readings from the 
History of Mankind (New York: New American Library, 1963): 128-167, on 12,8. On 
the “poverty topos” frequently invoked by Latins vis-a-vis Greek, see Joseph Farrell, 
Latin Language and Latin Culture from Ancient to Modern Times (Cambridge: Cam- 
bridge University Press, 2001), 28; and Ostler, Ad Infinitum , chapter 5. 

13. On the Romans’ natural knowledge — whether written in Latin or Greek — see 
Daryn Lehoux, What Did the Romans Know? An Inquiry into Science and Worldmak- 
ing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). I am indebted for the point about 
popularization to David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The Euro- 
pean Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehis- 
tory to A.D. 1450, 2d. ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007 [1992]), 135; 
and Scott L. Montgomery, Science in Translation: Movements of Knowledge through 
Cultures and Time (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 

14. Cicero, Tusculan Disputations , ed. J. E. King (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni- 
versity Press, 1950 [1927]), I.i.i. 

15. Cicero, Academica , I.ii.4, in Cicero, De natura deorum. Academica , ed. 
H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951 [1933]), 414. 

16. Cicero, Academica ,, in Cicero, De natura deorum. Academica , 420. 

17. Cicero, Academica, I.vii.25, in Cicero, De natura deorum. Academica , 434. 

18. D. R. Langslow, Medical Latin in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, 2000), esp. 35-36 for the contrast with Cicero; Rebecca Flemming, 
“Galen’s Imperial Order of Knowledge,” in Jason Konig and Tim Whitmarsh, eds., 
Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 
2007): 241-277, on 269. 

19. Horrocks, Greek, 197, 207; Henry Kahane and Renee Kahane, “Decline and 
Survival of Western Prestige Languages,” Language 55 (March 1979): 183-198, on 

20. Gilbert Dagron, “Formes et fonctions de pluralisme linguistique a Byzance 
(IXe-XIIe siecle),” Travaux et memoires 12 (1994): 219-240. 

21. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science , 159. 

22. On the rareness of knowledge of Greek in the West, see F. A. C. Mantello and 
A. G. Rigg, eds., Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide (Wash- 
ington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 718; Bernhard Bischoff, 
“The Study of Foreign Languages in the Middle Ages,” Speculum 36, no. 2 (April 
1961): 209-224, on 215; Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 118-119; A. C. 
Dionisotti, “On the Greek Studies of Robert Grosseteste,” in Dionisotti, Anthony 
Grafton, and Jill Kraye, eds., The Uses of Greek and Latin: Historical Essays (London: 
The Warburg Institute, 1988): 19-39; and idem, “Greek Grammars and Dictionaries 
in Carolingian Europe,” in Michael W. Herren, ed., The Sacred Nectar of the Greeks: 
The Study of Greek in the West in the Early Middle Ages (London: King’s College Lon- 
don Medieval Studies, 1988): 1-56. 


Notes to Pages 31-3 5 

23. Pierre Riche, “Le grec dans les centres de culture d’Occident in Herren, ed., 
The Sacred Nectar of the Greeks (1988): 143-168; Marie-Therese D’Alverny, “Transla- 
tions and Translators,” in Robert L. Benson and Giles Constable, eds., Renaissance 
and Renewal in the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 
1982): 421-462, on 427. 

24. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science , 147-148, 197. 

25. Bischoff, “The Study of Foreign Languages in the Middle Ages,” 209; Auer- 
bach, Literary Language and Its Public in Late Latin Antiquity , 119-120, 269; Charles 
Homer Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard 
University Press, 1955 [1927]), 127. 

26. Dimitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture: The Graeco-Arabic Translation 
Movement in Baghdad and Early Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-ioth Centuries) (New 
York: Routledge, 1998), 2. 

27. Montgomery, Science in Translation , 106. 

28. Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars , 109; William Chester Jordan, 
Europe in the High Middle Ages (New York: Viking, 2001), 116. 

29. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science , 224; Mantello and Rigg, Medi- 
eval Latin, 506. 

30. On the importance of science in this first generation of translations, see D’Al- 
verny, “Translations and Translators,” 451; Mantello and Rigg, Medieval Latin , 343. 

31. On the Toledo translations, see Mantello and Rigg, Medieval Latin , 724- 
725; F. Gabrieli, “The Transmission of Learning and Literary Influences to Western 
Europe,” in P. M. Holt, Ann K. S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis, eds., The Cambridge 
History of Islam, v. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970): 851-889; 
Millas-Vallicros, “Translations of Oriental Scientific Works”; George F. Hourani, 
“The Medieval Translations from Arabic to Latin Made in Spain,” Muslim World 6 2 
(1972): 97-114. 

32. John Murdoch, “Euclid: Transmission of the Elements,” Complete Dictio- 
nary of Scientific Biography (Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008), IV: 437-459; 
William R. Newman, Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature 
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 43-44. On quality, see R. W. South- 
ern, The Making of the Middle Ages (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 65. 

33. Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, 301. Emphasis in original. 

34. Ostler, Ad Infinitum, 217; Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 121. 

35. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and 
Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991 [1983]), 38. This claim is accu- 
rate, but Anderson goes on to declare: “Then and now the bulk of mankind is mono- 
glot.” According to most definitions of linguistic competence, this is demonstrably 

36. Peter Burke, Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe (Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 44-45. 

37. See, especially, Michael Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators: Humanist Ob- 
servers in Italy and the Discovery of Pictorial Composition, 1330-1430 (Oxford: Claren- 
don Press, 1971), 9, 46. For more on this point, see Paul Botley, Latin Translation in 
the Renaissance: The Theory and Practice of Leonardo Bruni, Giannozzo Manetti and 
Desiderius Erasmus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 152; Christo- 
pher S. Celenza, The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latins 
Legacy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 144, 146. 

Notes to Pages 33-38 


38. Mantello and Rigg, Medieval Latin , 76; Jozef IJsewijn, Companion to Neo- 
Latin Studies, Part I: History and Diffusion of Neo-Latin Literature , 2d ed. (Leuven: 
Leuven University Press, 1990), 22. 

39. Johan Huizinga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (New York: Harper & 
Brothers, 1957), 43. 

40. Anthony Grafton, Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age 
of Science, 1430-1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 166-167; 
Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages , 1 6. 

41. On Sanskrit, see especially Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the 
World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (Berkeley: Univer- 
sity of California Press, 2006). On the combination of European vehicular languages 
and regional vernacular translations of modern science in South Asia, see Michael S. 
Dodson, “Translating Science, Translating Empire: The Power of Language in Colo- 
nial North India,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 47, no. 4 (October 2005): 
809-835; and Gy an Prakash, Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern 
India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 62-63. 

42. Frits Staal, “The Sanskrit of Science” Journal of Indian Philosophy 23 (1995): 
73-127; Sheldon Pollock, “The Languages of Science in Early-Modern India,” in 
Karin Preisendanz, ed., Expanding and Merging Horizons: Contributions to South 
Asian and Cross-Cultural Studies in Commemoration of Wilhelm Halbfass (Vienna: 
Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2007): 203-220. 

43. Hermann Jacobi, “Uber den nominalen Stil des wissenschaftlichen Sanskrits,” 
Indogermanische Forschungen 14 (1903): 236-251. 

44. Otto Jespersen, The Philosophy of Grammar (Chicago: University of Chicago 
Press, 1992 [1924]), 139. 

45. The classic and comprehensive history of traditional Chinese science is, of 
course, the work begun by Joseph Needham and continued by generations of schol- 
ars: Joseph Needham with Wang Ling, Science and Civilisation in China (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 19 54-). On Chinese encounters with Catholic Jesuits 
and English Protestants from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, and how the 
translations shaped this traditional learning, see Benjamin A. Elman, On Their Own 
Terms: Science in China, 1330-1900 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 

46. For a general introduction to Chinese and common misconceptions about 
how it works, see John DeFrancis, The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy (Hono- 
lulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984). On the extent to which written Chinese can 
be thought of as a lingua franca, see the helpful essay by Victor H. Mair, “Buddhism 
and the Rise of the Written Vernacular in East Asia: The Making of National Lan- 
guages,” Journal of Asian Studies 53, no. 3 (August 1994): 707-751. The general in- 
formation in this paragraph about the circulation and limits of Classical Chinese, 
as well as the analogy with Latin, are drawn from Peter Kornicki, “The Latin of East 
Asia?,” Lecture 1 of the 2008 Sandars Lectures in Bibliography, Cambridge Univer- 
sity, 10 March 2008, available at, 
accessed 10 August 2013. 

47. For an introduction to the Chinese script, see Oliver Moore, Chinese (Berke- 
ley: University of California Press, 2000). For how early modern Europeans under- 
stood Chinese writing, see the detailed discussion in Bruce Rusk, “Old Scripts, New 

34 2 

Notes to Pages 39-41 

Actors: European Encounters with Chinese Writing, 1550-1700,” East Asian Science, 
Technology, and Medicine 26 (2007): 68-116. 

48. Reproduced in Marin Mersenne, Correspondance , ed. Cornelis de Waard, II 
(1628-1630) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1945), 324-328, quotation on 

49. For both surveys and detailed studies, see James Knowlson, Universal Lan- 
guage Schemes in England and France, 1600-1800 (Toronto: University of Toronto 
Press, 1975); M. M. Slaughter, Universal Languages and Scientific Taxonomy in the 
Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). 

50. On the dissatisfaction with Latin, see Knowlson, Universal Language Schemes 
in England and France , 8; J. A. Large, The Foreign- Language Barrier: Problems in Sci- 
entific Communication (London: Andre Deutsch, 1983), 138; Hans Aarsleff, From 
Locke to Saussure: Essays on the Study of Language and Intellectual History (London: 
Athlone, 1982), 260; and Peter Dear, Mersenne and the Learning of the Schools (Ithaca: 
Cornell University Press, 1988), 170, 229. 

51. On the connection of Chinese to the enthusiasm for philosophical languages, 
see Jonathan Cohen, “On the Project of a Universal Character,” Mind 63, no. 249 
(January 1954): 49-63, on 51; Barbara J. Shapiro, John Wilkins, 1614-1672: An Intel- 
lectual Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 47; and Knowlson, 
Universal Language Schemes in England and France , 25. 

52. Knowlson, Universal Language Schemes in England and France , 108-109. 

53. Shapiro, Joh n Wilkins , 46-47. 

54. See especially Clark Emery, “John Wilkins’ Universal Language,” Isis 38, no. 
3-4 (February 1948): 174-185; Benjamin DeMott, “The Sources and Development 
of John Wilkins’ Philosophical Language,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 
57 (1958): 1— 13; and the delightful account in Arika Okrent, In the Land of Invented 
Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers 
Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2009), chapter 1. 

55. John Wilkins, An Essay Towards a Real Character, and a Philosophical Language 
(London: John Martin, 1668), 10. Emphasis in original. 

56. Slaughter, Universal Languages and Scientific Taxonomy in the Seventeenth 
Century , 176; Knowlson, Universal Language Schemes in England and France , 140. 

57. Parry Moon and Domina Eberle Spencer, “Languages for Science? Journal of 
the Franklin Institute 246, no. 1 (July 1948): 1-12, on 5. 

58. See, for example, Robert Boyle’s objections to Latin, as described in Richard 
Jones, “Science and Language in England of the Mid-Seventeenth Century,” Journal 
of English and Germanic Philology 31, no. 3 (1932): 315-331, on 319. 

59. Galileo was translated into Latin by his friend C. Bernegger and then pub- 
lished in Holland by Elsevier. Jozef IJsewijn and Dirk Sacre, Companion to Neo-Latin 
Studies, Part II: Literary, Linguistic, Philological and Editorial Questions, 2d. ed. (Leu- 
ven: Leuven University Press, 1998), 494. Just because Galileo did not want to talk to 
the rest of Europe does not mean the rest of Europe did not want to hear him. 

60. Peter Burke, “Translations into Latin in Early Modern Europe,” in Burke and 
R. Po-Chia Hsia, eds., Cultural Translation in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 2007): 65-80, on 73-74; Isabelle Pantin, “The Role 
of Translations in European Scientific Exchanges in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth 
Centuries,” in ibid.: 163-179, on 166, 172. 

Notes to Pages 42-4 5 


6 1. On the Reformation, see Fran^oise Waquet, Latin, or the Empire of a Sign: 
From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries , tr. John Howe (London: Verso, 2001 
[1998]), 21; Peter Burke, The Art of Conversation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 
1993), 35—39; and IJsewijn, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies, Part I, 48. On female 
readers, see Burke, The Art of Conversation, 64. 

62. IJsewijn and Sacre, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies, Part II, 324. 

63. On translation into Latin, see Burke, The Art of Conversation, 41-42; idem, 
“Cultures of Translation in Early Modern Europe,” in Burke and Hsia, eds., Cultural 
Translation in Early Modern Europe (2007): 7-38, on 15, 20; Waquet, Latin, or the 
Empire of a Sign, 85; Augustinius Hubertus Laeven, The “Acta Eruditorum” under the 
Editorship of Otto Mencke (1644-1707): The History of an International Learned Jour- 
nal between 1682 and 1707, tr. Lynne Richards (Amsterdam: APA-Holland University 
Press, 1990), 51; and W. Leonard Grant, “European Vernacular Works in Latin Trans- 
lation,” Studies in the Renaissance 1 (1954): 120-156. 

64. Anthony Grafton, Bring Out Your Dead: The Past as Revelation (Cambridge, 
MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 170-171. 

65. Howard Stone, “The French Language in Renaissance Medicine,” Bibliotheque 
d’Humanisme et Renaissance 15, no. 3 (1953): 315-346. Seealso Waquet, Latin, ortheEm- 
pire of a Sign, 81-82, on the transition from Latin to French in the sixteenth century. 

66. Jean-Baptiste Du Hamel, Regiae Scientarum Academiae historia (Paris: 
Etienne Michallet, 1698), unpaginated preface. I am grateful to Anita Guerrini for 
bringing this passage to my attention. 

67. The information in this paragraph is drawn from J. R. Partington, A History of 
Chemistry, vol. 3 (London: Macmillan, 1962), 179-180; and Hugo Olsson, “Torbern 
Bergman, 1735-1784,” in Gote Carlid and Johann Nordstrom, eds., Torbern Berg- 
mans Foreign Correspondence. Volume One: Letters from Foreigners to Torbern Berg- 
man (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1965): xi-xviii. For Bergman’s own account, 
see his relatively sparse autobiographical essay, composed shortly before his death: 
Torbern Bergman, “Sjalfbiografi,” in Aldre svenska biografier, v. 3-4 (Uppsala: Alm- 
qvist & Wiksell, 1916): 83-103. 

68. Marco Beretta, The Enlightenment of Matter: The Definition of Chemistry from 
Agricola to Lavoisier (Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 1993), 93, 317; 
Evan M. Melhado, Jacob Berzelius: The Emergence of His Chemical System (Stock- 
holm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1981), 63. On eighteenth-century Swedish 
science in general, see Andreas Onnerfors, “Translation Discourses of the Enlighten- 
ment: Transcultural Language Skills and Cross-References in Swedish and German 
Eighteenth- Century Learned Journals,” in Stefanie Stockhorst, ed., Cultural Trans- 
fer through Translation: The Circulation of Enlightened Thought in Europe by Means of 
Translation (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010): 209-229. 

69. Marco Beretta, “T. O. Bergman and the Definition of Chemistry,” Lychnos 
(1988): 37-67, on 40. 

70. Lisbet Koerner, Linnaeus: Nature and Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni- 
versity Press, 20), chapter 1 (esp. p. 28 on his ignorance of French). 

71. Johann Gottlieb Georgi to Bergman, 9 August 1768, reproduced in Carlid and 
Nordstrom, Torbern Bergmans Foreign Correspondence, 67. 

72. Richard Kirwan to Bergman, 20 January 1783, reproduced in Carlid and Nord- 
strom, Torbern Bergmans Foreign Correspondence, 182. This is Kirwan’s fifth letter. 


Notes to Pages 45-52 

73. Franz Xaver Schwediauer to Bergman, 3 July 1780, reproduced in Carlid and 
Nordstrom, Torbern Bergmans Foreign Correspondence , 329-330. 

74. Fausto de Elhuyar to Bergman, 15 January 1784, reproduced in Carlid and 
Nordstrom, Torbern Bergmans Foreign Correspondence , 58. 

75. Guyton de Morveau to Bergman, 10 October 1781, reproduced in Carlid and 
Nordstrom, Torbern Bergmans Foreign Correspondence , 119; and Editors’ introduc- 
tion, in ibid., xxxv, xxxviii. 

76. Franz Xaver Schwediauer to Bergman, 14 February 1874, reproduced in Car- 
lid and Nordstrom, Torbern Bergmans Foreign Correspondence, 381-382. See also the 
similar complaint in Ignaz von Born to Bergman, 10 August 1777, reproduced in 
ibid., 6. 

77. Johan Ditlev Breckling Brandt to Bergman, 22 November 1770, reproduced in 
Carlid and Nordstrom, Torbern Bergmans Foreign Correspondence, 11. 

78. For Sweden, see Margareta Benner and Emin Tengstrom, On the Interpreta- 
tion of Learned Neo-Latin: An Explorative Study Based on Some Texts from Sweden 
(1611-1716) (Goteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1977). On Latin outside 
the universities, see Isabelle Pantin, “Latin et langues vernaculaires dans la litterature 
scientifique europeenne au debut de l’epoque moderne (1550-1635),” in Roger Char- 
tier and Pietro Corsi, eds., Sciences et langues en Europe (Paris: European Communi- 
ties, 2000 [1994]): 41-56. For an excellent general picture of Latin’s endurance, see 
Ann Blair, “La persistance du latin comme langue de science a la fin de la Renais- 
sance,” in ibid.: 19-39. 

79. Alix Cooper, Inventing the Indigenous: Local Knowledge and Natural History in 
Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 78-79. 

80. On libraries, see Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the 
Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 137; on 
Voltaire, see Burke, The Art of Conversation, 53. 

81. Janson, A Natural History of Latin, 159. 

82. See the explanation in Beretta, “T. O. Bergman and the Definition of Chemis- 
try,” 53-54; and Beretta, The Enlightenment of Matter, 102, 148, 155. 

83. Torbern Bergman, Meditationes de systemate fossilium naturali (Florence: 
Typis Josephi Tofani, 1784), 123-124. This is the first Italian edition; the work was 
originally published in Nova acta Regiae Societatis Scientiarum Upsalensis 4 (1784): 

84. Maurice P. Crosland, Historical Studies in the Language of Chemistry (Cam- 
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 135-136, 164; Beretta, “T. O. Bergman 
and the Definition of Chemistry,” 55; Beretta, The Enlightenment of Matter, 139-140, 

85. Trevor Williams, “Scientific Literature: Its Influence on Discovery and Prog- 
ress,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 2, no. 2 (1977): 165-172, on 165. 

86. IJsewijn and Sacre, Companion to Neo-Latin Studies , Part II, 258-259. 

Chapter Two 

1. Mendeleev, Neftianaia promyshlennost ’ v severo-amerikanskom shtate Pen- 
siTvanii i na Kavkaze (St. Petersburg: Obshchestvennaia pol’za, 1877), reproduced in 
D. I. Mendeleev, Sochineniia, v. 10: Neff (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1949), 153. 

2. On the creation of the periodic system, see Michael D. Gordin, A Well-Ordered 

Notes to Pages S3~59 


Thing: Dmitrii I. Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table (New York: Basic 
Books, 2004), chapter 2, and references therein. 

3. D. I. Mendeleev, Novye materialy po istorii otkrytiia periodicheskogo zakona , ed. 
N. A. Figurovskii (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1950), image 2. 

4. For an introduction to these three conflicts, see, respectively, Domenico Berto- 
loni Meli, Equivalence and Priority: Newton versus Leibniz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 
1993); Thomas S. Kuhn, “Energy Conservation as an Example of Simultaneous Dis- 
covery,” in Kuhn, The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and 
Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977): 66-104; and Janet Browne, 
Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 
chapter 1. 

5. See Michael D. Gordin, “The Textbook Case of a Priority Dispute: D. I. Men- 
deleev, Lothar Meyer, and the Periodic System,” in Jessica Riskin and Mario Biagioli, 
eds., Nature Engaged: Science in Practice from the Renaissance to the Present (New 
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012): 59-82. 

6. J. W. van Spronsen, The Periodic System of Chemical Elements: A History of the 
First Hundred Years (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1969), 1, and 142-143. 

7. Minutes of the Russian Chemical Society meeting of 6 March 1869 (O.S.), 
ZhRFKhO 1(1869), 35. In the nineteenth century, the Russian calendar lagged twelve 
days behind the new-style Gregorian calendar standard in Western Europe. 

8. Mendeleev’s findings were also reported in German in the flagship journal of 
the fledging German Chemical Society, but in much briefer form: V. von Richter, 
“[Correspondence from St. Petersburg],” Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesell- 
s ch aft zu Berlin 2 (1869): 552-554. 

9. On Beilstein’s relationship with Meyer, see his letter to Jakob Volhard lament- 
ing the death of his friend, on 30 May/11 June 1895, reproduced in Elena Roussa- 
nova, Friedrich Konrad Beilstein, Chemiker zweier Nationen: Sein Leben und Werk 
sowie einige Aspekte der deutsch-russischen Wissenschaftsbeziehungen in der zweiten 
Hdlfte des 19. Jahrhunderts im Spiegel seines brieflichen Nachlasses , vol. 2 (Hamburg: 
Norderstedt, 2007), 429. 

10. Lothar Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie und ihre Bedeutungfiir die 
chemische Statik (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 1864), 136. 

11. Karl Seubert, “Zur Geschichte des periodischen Systems,” Zeitschrifi fur 
Anorganische Chemie 9 (1895): 334-338. 

12. D. Mendelejeff, “Ueber die Beziehungen der Eigenschaften zu den Atom- 
gewichten der Elemente,” Zeitschrifi fur Chemie , N.S. 5 (1869): 405-406, on 405. 

13. Lothar Meyer, “Die Natur der chemischen Elemente als Function ihrer Atom- 
gewichte,” Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie , Supp. VII (1870): 354-364, on 355— 

14. Mendeleev, “Sootnoshenie svoistv s atomnym vesom elementov,” ZhRFKhO 1 
(1869): 60-79, on 76, reproduced in Mendeleev, Periodicheskii zakon. Klassiki nauki , 
ed. B. M. Kedrov (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1958), 30. Emphasis in original. 

15. Mendeleev himself would highlight the damage of this translation error in a 
German article in 1873: D. Mendelejeff, “Zur Frage fiber das System der Elemente,” 
Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 4 (1871): 348-352, on 351. This issue 
has only rarely and all-too-briefly been noted in the massive scholarship on the his- 
tory of the periodic system, and its implications have never been fully explored. See 
V. A. Krotikov, “Dve oshibki v pervykh publikatsiiakh o periodicheskom zakone 

3 4 6 Notes to Pages sp-66 

D. I. Mendeleevym,” Voprosy istorii estestvoznaniia i tekhniki, no. 4 (29) (1969): 129- 
13 1; and Van Spronsen, The Periodic System of Chemical Elements, 127. 

1 6. Quoted in K. Bening, D. I. Mendeleev i L. Meier (Kazan: Tsentral’naia tip., 
1911), ii. 

17. Mendeleev, “Ob atomnom ob”eme prostykh tel” (1870), in Mendeleev, Perio- 
dicheskii zakon. Klassiki nauki, 48-49; and Mendeleev, “O meste tseriia v sisteme 
elementov” (1870), in ibid., 59. 

18. Mendeleev to Erlenmeyer, [August 1871?], in Otto Kratz, “Zwei Briefe Dmitri 
Iwanowitsch Mendelejeffs an Emil Erlenmeyer,” Physis 12 (1970): 347-352, on 351. 

19. Mendelejeff, “Die periodische Gesetzmassigkeit der chemischen Elemente,” 
reproduced in Mendeleev, Nauchnyi arkhiv, t. 1. Periodicheskii zakon , ed. B. M. 
Kedrov (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1953), on 361. Emphasis in original. 

20. Lothar Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie und ihre Bedeutungfur die 
chemische Statik , 3d. ed. (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 1876), 29m. On the second 
edition, see idem, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie und ihre Bedeutungfur die che- 
mische Statik , 2d. ed. (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 1872), 298. 

21. Adolphe Wurtz to Mendeleev, 27 July 1877, ADIM I-V-23-1-27. 

22. Adolphe Wurtz, La theorie atomique (Paris: Librairie Germer Balliere et Cie., 
1879), 112. On Meyer, see pages 118 and 122. 

23. Adolf Wurtz to German Chemical Society, 29 December 1879, as printed in 
minutes of the meeting of 11 January 1880, Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesell- 
schaft 13 (1880); 6-7, on 7. 

24. Adolphe Wurtz to German Chemical Society, 1 March 1880, as printed in Be- 
richte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschafi 13 (1880): 453-454. 

25. Lothar Meyer to the Vorstand of the German Chemical Society, 25 January 
1880, as printed in Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 13 (1880): 220-221, 
on 221. 

26. Lothar Meyer, “Zur Geschichte der periodischen Atomistik [I],” Berichte der 
Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 13 (1880): 259-265, on 261 and 259 (“judge”). 

27. Mendeleev, “Spisok moikh sochinenii,” reproduced in S. A. Shchukarev and 
S. N. Valk, eds., Arkhiv D. I. Mendeleeva, t. 1: Avtobiograficheskie materialy, sbornik 
dokumentov (Leningrad: Izd. Leningradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta imeni 
A. A. Zhdanova, 1951), 67. 

28. D. Mendelejeff, “Zur Geschichte des periodischen Gesetzes,” Berichte der 
Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 13 (1880): 1796-1804, on 1799m, i8oon3, 1797, 
and 1801. 

29. Lothar Meyer, “Zur Geschichte der periodischen Atomistik [II],” Berichte 
der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 13 (1880): 2043-2044, on 2043. Emphasis in 

30. Iu. I. Solov’ev, Istoriia khimii v Rossii: Nauchnye tsentry i osnovnye pravleniia 
issledovaniia (Moscow: Nauka, 1985), 79-81. 

31. See Nathan M. Brooks, “Russian Chemistry in the 1850s: A Failed Attempt at 
Institutionalization,” Annals of Science 52 (1995): 577-589. 

32. Khimicheskii zhurnal N. Sokolova iA. Engelgardta 1 (1859), front cover. 

33. N. Sokolov and A. Engel’gardt, “Ot redaktsii,” Khimicheskii zhurnal N. Soko- 
lova iA. Engelgardta 1 (January 1859): i-xvi, on ix. 

34. August Hofmann, “O dvuatomnykh i triatomnykh ammiakakh,” Khimicheskii 

Notes to Pages 66-68 


zhurnal N. Sokolova i A. Engelgardta 3 (i860): 55-74; Edward Frankland, Auguste 
Cahours, and George Buckton, “O metalloorganicheskikh soedineniiakh Khimi- 
cheskii zhurnal N. Sokolova iA. Engelgardta 3 (i860): 109-129. 

35. For example, A. M. Butlerov, “O nekotorykh produktakh deistviia al’kogo- 
liata natriia na iodoform,” Khimicheskii zhurnal N. Sokolova iA. Engelgardta 3(1860): 

36. N. N. Sokolov to Mendeleev, 28 January i860 (O.S.), St. Petersburg, ADIM 

37. Quoted in Richard Anschutz, August Kekule, 2 v. (Berlin: Verlag Chemie, 
1929), 1:130. See also the opening editorial in the first issue: A. Kekule, G. Fewin- 
stein, F. Eisenlohr, and M. Cantor, “[Editorial Announcement],” Kritische Zeitschrift 
fur Chemie, , Physik und Mathematik 1 (1858): 3-7. 

38. Otto Kratz, ed., Beilstein-Erlenmeyer: Briefe zur Geschichte der chemischen 
Dokumentation und des chemischen Zeitschriftenwesens (Munich: Werner Fritsch, 
1972), n. 

39. On Erlenmeyer’s sense of humor, see Richard Meyer, “Emil Erlenmeyer,” 
Chemiker-Zeitung 23, no. 19 (13 February 1909): 161-162, on 161. Intrusive editorial- 
izing was not atypical in several of the most prominent scientific journals of the day. 
On the norms and practices of midcentury chemical publishing, see J. P. Phillips, 
“Fiebig and Kolbe, Critical Editors,” Chymia 2 (1966): 89-97. For contemporary 
complaints, see the letter from Kekule to Erlenmeyer, 8 November 1871, quoted in 
Anschutz, August Kekule, F407; andBeilstein to Butlerov, 24 November 1866 (O.S.), 
reproduced in G. W. Bykow and L. M. Bekassowa, “Beitrage zur Geschichte der 
Chemie der 60-er Jahre des XIX. Jahrhunderts: II. F. Beilsteins Briefe an A. M. But- 
lerow,” Physis 8 (1966): 267-285, on 281. 

40. On the Russian contributions to the Zeitschrift , and a general history, see 
G. V. Bykov and Z. I. Sheptunova, “Nemetskii ‘Zhurnal khimii’ (1858-1871) i russkie 
khimiki (K istorii khimicheskoi periodiki),” Trudy Instituta istorii estestvoznaniia i 
tekhniki 30 (i960): 97-110. On Russian students in Heidelberg, see Gesa Bock, “Stu- 
denten des russischen Reichs an der Universitat Heidelberg (1862/ 63-1914)” (Diplo- 
marbeit, Institiit fiir Ubersetzen und Dolmetschen, Universitat Heidelberg, 1991); 
Willy Birkenmaier, Das russische Heidelberg: Zur Geschichte der deutsch-russischen 
Beziehungen im 19. Jahrhundert (Heidelberg: Wunderhorn, 1995); and Annette 
Nolte, D. I. Mendeleev in Heidelberg , Russica Palatina 22 (1993). On Borodin, see 
Michael D. Gordin, “The Weekday Chemist: The Training of Aleksandr Borodin,” in 
Jed Z. Buchwald, ed., A Master of Science History: Essays in Honor of Charles Coulston 
Gillispie, Archimedes 30 (Berlin: Springer, 2012): 137-164. 

41. Otto Kratz, “Emil Erlenmeyer, 1825-1909,” Chemie in unserer Zeit 6 (1972): 
52-58, on 55; M. Conrad, “Emil Erlenmeyer,” Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Ge- 
sellschaft 43 (1910): 3645-3664, on 3647. 

42. Beilstein to Butlerov, 24 November 1866 (O.S.), reproduced in Bykow and Be- 
kassowa, “Beitrage zur Geschichte,” 281. On postal and ordering issues, see Beilstein 
to Butlerov, 29/17 January 1865, reproduced in ibid., 270; and V. V. Markovnikov to 
A. M. Butlerov, 10 December [1867, O.S.], reproduced in G. V. Bykov, ed., Pis’ma rus- 
skikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu, Nauchnoe Nasledstvo, v. 4 (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 
1961), 248. See also the discussion in Alan J. Rocke, The Quiet Revolution: Hermann 
Kolbe and the Science of Organic Chemistry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 


348 No tes to Pages 68-72 

43. Erlenmeyer to Butlerov, 25 March 1864, reproduced in G. W. Bykow andL. M. 
Bekassowa, “Beitrage zur Geschichte der Chemie der 60-er Jahre des XIX. Jahrhun- 
derts: I. Briefwechsel zwischen E. Erlenmeyer und A. M. Butlerow (von 1862 bis 
1876),” Physis 8 (1966): 185-198, on 190-191. 

44. On Beilstein’s biography, see Michael D. Gordin, “Beilstein Unbound: The 
Pedagogical Unraveling of a Man and His Handbuch ,” in David Kaiser, ed., Peda- 
gogy and the Practice of Science: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Cambridge, 
MA: MIT Press, 2005): 11-39. 

45. Kratz, Beilstein-Erlenmeyer , 7. 

46. Beilstein to Kekule, 3 November 1865, quoted in Friedrich Richter, “K. F. 
Beilstein, sein Werk und seine Zeit: Zur Erinnerung an die 100. Wiederkehr seines 
Geburtstages,” Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 71A (1938): 35-71, on 
42. Emphasis in original. 

47. Beilstein to Butlerov, 18/6 November 1866, reproduced in Bykow and Bekas- 
sowa, “Beitrage zur Geschichte der Chemie . . . II,” 279. 

48. Beilstein to Butlerov, 29/17 January 1865, reproduced in Bykow and Bekas- 
sowa, “Beitrage zur Geschichte der Chemie . . . II,” 271. Emphasis in original. 

49. Friedrich Beilstein, “O rabotakh chlenov Russkago fiziko-khimicheskago 
obshchestva po aromaticheskomu riadu,” in Russkoe khimicheskoe obshchestvo. XXV 
(1868-1893). Otdelenie khimii Russkago fiziko-khimicheskago obshchestva (St. Peters- 
burg: V. Demakov, 1894), 39-56, on 48; Beilstein, signed footnote in A. Engelhardt, 
“Ueber die Einwirkung der wasserfreien Schwefelsaure auf einige organische Ver- 
bindungen,” Zeitschrift fur Chemie und Pharmacie 7 (1864): 42-46 and 85-87, on 

50. Beilstein comment on D. Mendelejeff, “Ueber die Verbindung des Wein- 
geistes mit Wasser,” Zeitschrift fur Chemie , N.S. 1 (1865): 257-264, on 264. 

51. Beilstein to Erlenmeyer, 26/14 April 1871, reproduced in Kratz, Beilstein- 
Erlenmeyer , 16. See also Rudolph Fittig to Erlenmeyer, 2 January 1872, Tubingen, 

52. Quoted in V. V. Kozlov and A. I. Lazarev, “Tri chetverti veka Russkogo Khimi- 
cheskogo Obshchestva (1869-1944),” in S. I. Vol’fkovich and V. S. Kiselev, eds., 75 let 
periodicheskogo zakona D. I. Mendeleeva i Russkogo Khimicheskogo Obshchestva (Mos- 
cow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1947): 115-265, on 128. 

53. N. A. Menshutkin and G. Shmidt, “Otchet o deiatel’nosti Russkago khimiche- 
skago obshchestva v 1869 g.,” ZhRFKhO 2 (1870): 3-6, on 5. 

54. Minutes of Russian Chemical Society meeting of 4 March 1871 (O.S.), ZhRF- 
KhO 3 (1871), 93. 

55. V. V. Markovnikov to A. M. Butlerov, 9 October 1874 (O.S.), reproduced in 
Bykov, Pis’ma russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu, 272. 

56. Minutes of Russian Chemical Society meeting of 3 April 1880 (O.S.), ZhRF- 
KhO 12 (1880): 182-183. 

57. Beilstein to Erlenmeyer, 23 September/5 October 1873, reproduced in Kratz, 
Beilstein-Erlenmeyer , 41. 

58. A. N. Popov to A. M. Butlerov, 30 December 1871 (O.S.), reproduced in By- 
kov, Pis’ma russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 340. 

59. V. V. Markovnikov to A. M. Butlerov, 13 January [1870] (O.S.), reproduced in 
Bykov, Pis’ma russkikh khimikov k A. M. Butlerovu, 259; M. D. L’vov to A. M. But- 
lerov, 22 July 1873 (O.S.), reproduced in ibid., 200. 

Notes to Pages 72-83 


60. V. V. Markovnikov to A. M. Butlerov, 17 January [1868] (O.S.), reproduced in 
Bykov, Pis’ma russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 252. 

61. Beilstein to Erlenmeyer, 29 April/11 May 1872, reproduced in Kratz, Beilstein- 
Erlenmeyer, 26. Emphasis in original. 

62. Draft of Erlenmeyer to Beilstein, 19 May 1872, reproduced in Kratz, Beilstein- 
Erlenmeyer , 33-34. 

63. Johanna Meyer (nee Volkmann) and her children, Tubingen, 12 April 1895, 
ADIM I-V-27-1-26. 

64. Lothar Meyer, ed., Die Anfdnge des Systems der chemischen Elemente: Abhand- 
lungen von J. W. Doebereiner 1829 und Max Pettenkofer i8so nebst einer geschichtlichen 
Uebersicht der Weiterentwicklung der Lehre von den Triaden der Elemente (Leipzig: 
W. Engelmann, 1895). 

65. Lothar Meyer to Mendeleev, 16 August 1893, Tubingen, ADIM I-V-63-1-70. 

66. Karl Seubert, ed., Das natiirliche System der chemischen Elemente: Abhand- 
lungen von Lothar Meyer 1864-1869 undD. Mendelejeff 1869-1871 (Leipzig: W. Engel- 
mann, 1895). The date span in the title represents a subtle priority claim in itself. 

67. (Accessed 20 August 2012.) 

68. Editorial comments in Seubert, ed., Das natiirliche System der chemischen Ele- 
mente , 122-123. See also Nikolai A. Menshutkin, Ocherk razvitiia khimicheskikh voz- 
zrenii (St. Petersburg: V. Demakov, 1888), 319. 

69. Menshutkin in minutes of Russian Chemical Society meeting of 13 April 1895 
(O.S.), ZhRFKhO 27 (1895): 197; and Butlerov, “Istoricheskii ocherk razvitiia khimii 
v poslednie 40 let,” stenograph of lectures from 1879-1880, reproduced in Butlerov, 
Sochineniia , 3 v. (Moscow: AN SSSR, 1953-1958), III: 280. 

70. P. Phillips Bedson, “Lothar Meyer Memorial Lecture” Journal of the Chemical 
Society 69 (1896): 1403-1439, on 1409. 

71. See, for example, F. P. Venable, The Development of the Periodic Law (Easton, 
PA: Chemical Publishing Co., 1896), 95. 

72. Minutes of Russian Chemical Society meeting of 3 April 1875 (O.S.), ZhRF- 
KhO 7 (1875): 177. 

73. In Russkoe khimicheskoe obshchestvo , 4. 

74. In Russkoe khimicheskoe obshchestvo , 2. 

75. D. Mendeleeff, “Comment j’ai trouve le systeme periodique des elements,” Re- 
vue generale de chimie pure et appliquee 4 (1901): 533-546, on 546. 

76. V. I. Modestov, Russkaia nauka v posledniia dvadtsat’ piat’ let (Odessa: Ekono- 
micheskaia tip., 1890), 9. Emphasis in original. 

Chapter Three 

1. F. M. Dostoevskii, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v tridtsati tomakh, 30 v. (Lenin- 
grad: Nauka, 1972-1990), XXI: 121. 

2. As of 1971, Russian speakers numbered just under half of all Slavic speakers. 
G. S. Vinokur, The Russian Language: A Brief History, tr. Mary A. Forsyth (Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 1. That proportion is almost certainly 
higher today. 

3. Vinokur, The Russian Language , 1. 

350 Notes to Pages 8 3 - 87 

4. W. K. Matthews, The Structure and Development of Russian (Cambridge: Cam- 
bridge University Press, 1953), in. 

5. Vinokur, The Russian Language , 22-23, quotation on 23. See also Lawrence L. 
Thomas, introduction to V. V. Vinogradov, The History of the Russian Literary Lan- 
guage from the Seventeenth Century to the Nineteenth, tr. and ed. Lawrence L. Thomas 
(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), xii. 

6. B. O. Unbegaun, “Colloquial and Literary Russian,” Oxford Slavonic Papers 1 
(1950): 26-36, on 26-27. 

7. Vinokur, The Russian Language , 32. 

8. Matthews, The Structure and Development of Russian, 14. 

9. Vinokur, The Russian Language, 71; Matthews, The Structure and Development 
of Russian, 140. 

10. W. K. Matthews, Russian Historical Grammar (London: Athlone Press, i960), 
63; Vinogradov, The History of the Russian Literary Language, 13-14. 

11. Gerta Hiittl Worth, Foreign Words in Russian: A Historical Sketch, i$$o-i8oo 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963), 1-2. 

12. Vinogradov, The History of the Russian Literary Language, 33. For a magisterial 
survey of transformations of Russian in this period, see V. M. Zhivov, Iazyk i kuTtura 
v Rossii XVIII veka (Moscow: Shkola “Iazyki russkoi kul’tury,” 1996). 

13. Unbegaun, “Colloquial and Literary Russian,” 29; Vinogradov, The History of 
the Russian Literary Language, 31. On the context of Peter’s translation movement, 
see Matthews, The Structure and Development of Russian, 156; and Dennis Ward, The 
Russian Language Today: System and Anomaly (London: Hutchinson University 
Library, 1965), 114. 

14. Christopher D. Buck, “The Russian Language Question in the Imperial 
Academy of Sciences, 1724-1770,” in Riccardo Picchio and Harvey Goldblatt, eds., 
Aspects of the Slavic Language Question, 2 vol. (New Haven: Yale Concilium on Inter- 
national and Area Studies, 1984), II: 187-233, on 188-189, J 94 * 

15. Buck, “The Russian Language Question in the Imperial Academy of Sciences,” 

16. Hans Rogger, National Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Russia (Cam- 
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, i960), 109. 

17. E. Lenz to council of St. Petersburg University, 10 October 1859 (O.S.), 
TsGIASPb, f. 14, op. 1, d. 6039, 1 . 1. 

18. On Lomonosov’s Rossiiskaia grammatika (1755) and O poize knig tserkovnykh 
v Rossiiskom iazyke (1758) and their influence on Russian stylistics, see Vinokur, The 
Russian Language, 101; Unbegaun, “Colloquial and Literary Russian,” 30; and Vino- 
gradov, The History of the Russian Literary Language, 72-73. On French as a template 
for later Russian syntax, see ibid., 66. 

19. Vinogradov, The History of the Russian Literary Language, 243. 

20. On the history of the German language in Russia, see Alfons Hocherl, “Kul- 
turelle und wissenschaftliche deutsche Einfliisse in Russland im historischen Uber- 
blick,” in Ulrich Ammon and Dirk Kemper, eds., Die deutsche Sprache in Russland: 
Geschichte, Gegenwart, Zukunftsperspektiven (Munich: Iudicium, 2011), 23-40. 

21. Edv. Hjelt, “Friedrich Konrad Beilstein,” Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen 
Gesellschaft 40 (1907): 5041-5078, on 5069. 

Notes to Pages 87-9$ 


22. Petition to the Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences, 9 October 1854 
(O.S.), PFARAN f. 5, op. 1(1854), d. 513, 1 . 2. 

23. K. K. Klaus to A. M. Butlerov, 15 April 1853 (O.S.), reproduced in G. V. Bykov, 
ed., Pis’ma russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , Nauchnoe nasledstvo, v. 4 (Moscow: 
Izd. AN SSSR, 1961), 161. 

24. Klaus to Butlerov, 12 May 1857 (O.S.), reproduced in Bykov, Pis’ma russkikh 
khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 166. 

25. Klaus to Butlerov, 11 August 1853 (O.S.), reproduced in Bykov, Pis’ma russkikh 
khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 164. 

26. A. A. Inostrantsev, Vospominaniia (Avtobiografiia), eds. V. A. Prozorovskii 
and I. L. Tikhonov (St. Petersburg: Peterburgskoe vostokovedenie, 1998), 95. 

27. Borodin to M. A. Balakirev, [22-30 January 1867, O.S.], reproduced in A. P. 
Borodin, Pis’ma : Polnoe sobranie, kriticheski sverennoe s podlinnymi tekstami , 4 v., ed. 
S. A. Dianin (Moscow: Gos. muzykal’nyoe izd., 1927-1950), I: 94. 

28. Minutes of the Russian Chemical Society meeting of 12 September 1902 
(O.S.), ZhRFKhO 34 (1902): 637. 

29. I. M. Sechenov, Avtobiograficheskie zapiski (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1945), 

30. Kablukov’s autobiography, PFARAN, f. 474, op. 1, d. 201, quoted in Iu. I. So- 
lov’ev, M. I. Kablukova, and E. V. Kolesnikov, Ivan Alekseevich Kablukov (Moscow: 
Izd. AN SSSR, 1957), 20-22. 

31. V. V. Markovnikov to A. M. Butlerov, 22 July/ 3 August [1865], reproduced in 
Bykov, Pis’ma russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 215. 

32. Markovnikov to Butlerov, 7 August [1865], reproduced in Bykov, Pis’ma rus- 
skikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 216. 

33. A. Bulginskii to Emil Erlenmeyer, 29 October 1866, HBA. 

34. Mendeleev’s library is described in R. B. Dobrotin and N. G. Karpilo, Biblio- 
teka D. I. Mendeleeva (Leningrad: Nauka, 1980). 

35. See Mendeleev’s diary entries of 1 and 6 January 1861, reproduced in D. I. Men- 
deleev, “Dnevnik 1861 g.,” Nauchnoe nasledstvo 2 (1951): 111-212, on 112 and 114. 

36. Letter of 25 November 1886 (O.S.), quoted in Iu. I. Solov’ev, Istoriia khimii v 
Rossii: Nauchnye tsentry i osnovnye pravleniia issledovaniia (Moscow: Nauka, 1985), 
355 * 

37. Mendeleev to Kekule, 28 June/10 July 1883, Boblovo, quoted in Richard An- 
schutz, August Kekule, 2 v. (Berlin: Verlag Chemie, 1929), I: 692, 694. 

38. Mendeleev to Erlenmeyer, 24 August/3 September [1870?], in Otto Kratz, 
“Zwei Briefe Dmitri Iwanowitsch Mendelejeffs an Emil Erlenmeyer,” Physis 12 
(1970): 347-35Z, on 350. 

39. Mendeleev, Dva londonskikh chteniia, reproduced in Mendeleev, Izbrannye so- 
chineniia , v. 2. (Leningrad: ONTI, 1934), 342. 

40. Mendeleev to Menshutkin, 23 July 1889, Boblovo, reproduced in B. N. Men- 
shutkin, Zhizn i deiatel’nost’ Nikolaia Aleksandrovicha Menshutkina (St. Petersburg: 
M. Frolova, 1908), 109. 

41. Crum Brown to Mendeleev, 29 March 1884, reproduced in V. E. Tishchenko 
and M. N. Mladentsev, Dmitrii Ivanovich Mendeleev, ego zhizn i deiatel’nost’: Univer- 
sitetskii period, 1861-1890 gg., Nauchnoe nasledstvo , v. 21 (Moscow: Nauka, 1993), 117. 
Presumably, this letter was originally written in German, but I was only able to find 
it in Russian translation. 


Notes to Pages 93-99 

42. William Ramsay to Mendeleev, 22 September 1889, ADIM Alb. 2/280. 

43. William Ramsay to Mendeleev, undated, ADIM Alb. 2/201. 

44. William Ramsay to Mendeleev, 6 January 1892, ADIM Alb. 3/ 500. 

45. William Ramsay to Mendeleev, 20 January 1892, ADIM Alb. 3/ 501. 

46. Minutes of the Russian Chemical Society meeting of 5 November 1870 (O.S.), 
ZhRFKhO 2 (1870), 290m. 

47. Otto Jespersen, “Nature and Art in Language,” American Speech 5 (1929): 
89-103, on 90-91. On similar layering in Russian chemical nomenclature, see David 
Kraus, “Sources of Scientific Russian,” Slavic and East European Journal 5, no. 2 
(Summer 1961): 123-131, on 128-129. 

48. Viktor A. Kritsman, “Die Entstehung der russischen chemischen Nomen- 
klatur im europaischen Kontext: Die Friihgeschichte,” in Bernhard Fritscher and 
Gerhard Brey, eds., Cosmographica et Geographica: Festschrift fur Herihert M. Nobis 
zum 70. Geburtstag (Munich: Institut fur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, 
r994): 199-218, on 18; Victor A. Kritsman and Briggite Hoppe, “The Study of Lavoi- 
sier’s Works by Russian Scientists,” Revue d’histoire des sciences 48 (1995): 133-142, 
esp. 135-136; Solov’ev, Istoriia khimii v Rossii, 58-60; Nikolai A. Menshutkin, Ocherk 
razvitiia khimicheskikh vozzrenii (St. Petersburg: V. Demakov, 1888), 31m. 

49. F. Savchenkov, “Istoricheskie materialy po russkoi khimicheskoi nomenkla- 
ture,” ZhRFKhO 2 (1870): 205-212, on 205. 

50. Iakov D. Zakharov, “Razsuzhdenie o rossiiskom khimicheskom slovozna- 
chenii,” UmozriteVnyia izsledovaniia Imperatorskoi Sanktpeterburgskoi Akademii 
nauk 2 (1810): 332-354, on 332-333. 

51. M. F. Solov’ev, S. Ia. Nechaev, P. G. Sobolevskii, and G. I. Gess, “Kratkii obzor 
khimicheskago imenosloviia,” Gornyi zhurnal 2, no. 6 (1836): 457-463, on 457. 

52. Frankland to Kolbe, 3 December 1871, reproduced in Rita Meyer, “Emil Erlen- 
meyer (1825-1909) als Chemietheoretiker und sein Beitrag zur Entwicklung der 
Strukturchemie” (Dissertation, Medical Faculty of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat 
in Munich, 1984), on 344-345. 

53. On the tortured history of the Geneva nomenclature, see the dissertation in 
progress by Evan Hepler-Smith at Princeton University, entitled “Nominally Ratio- 
nal: Systematic Nomenclature and the Structure of Organic Chemistry, 1889-1940.” 

54. See Michael D. Gordin, “Beilstein Unbound: The Pedagogical Unraveling of 
a Man and His Handbuch” in David Kaiser, ed., Pedagogy and the Practice of Science: 
Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005): 11-39. 

55. Minutes of the Russian Chemical Society meeting of 8 October 1892 (O.S.), 
ZhRFKhO 24 (1892): 542-544. See also Beilstein’s early comments on the Geneva 
nomenclature and Menshutkin’s discussion of translations of the French rules into 
Russian: Minutes of the Russian Chemical Society meeting of 13 September 1890 
(O.S.), ZhRFKhO 22 (1890): 480; and N. Menshutkin, “K voprosu o khimicheskoi 
nomenklature: Sostavlenie nazvanii organicheskikh kislot,” ZhRFKhO 25 (1893): 10. 

56. Solov’ev, Istoriia khimii v Rossii , 82, 86. 

57. K. Ia. Parmenov, Khimiia kak uchebnyi predmet v dorevoliutsionnoi i sovetskoi 
shkole (Moscow: Akademiia pedagogicheskikh nauk RSFSR, 1963), 30. 

58. C. G. Lehmann, Handbuch der physiologischen Chemie (Leipzig: W. Engel- 
mann, 1854); Justus von Liebig, Die organische Chemie in ihrer Anwendung aufPhysi- 
ologie und Pathologie (Braunschweig: F. Vieweg und Sohn, 1842). 

Notes to Pages 99-10 3 


59. On the issue of credit, see Alan J. Rocke, “Kekule, Butlerov, and the Histori- 
ography of the Theory of Chemical Structure,” British Journal for the History of Sci- 
ence 14 (1981): 27-57. 

60. Much of the information in this section on the composition of the textbook 
is derived from G. V. Bykov, “Materialy k istorii trekh pervykh izdanii ‘Vvedeniia k 
polnomu izucheniiu organicheskoi khimii’ A. M. Butlerova,” Trudy Instituta istorii 
estestvoznaniia i tekhniki 6 (1955): 243-291. 

6 1. Karl Schmidt to A. M. Butlerov, 1/13 April 1865, reproduced in Bykov, Pis’ma 
russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 402. Emphasis in original. 

62. Wurtz to Butlerov, 5 October 1864, reproduced in G. V. Bykov and J. Jacques, 
“Deux pionniers de la chimie moderne, Adolphe Wurtz et Alexandre M. Boutlerov, 
d’apres une correspondance inedite,” Revue d’historie des sciences 13 (i960): 115-134, 
on 126. 

63. Markovnikov to Butlerov, 22 July/3 August [1865], reproduced in Bykov, 
Pis’ma russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 216. 

64. P. P. Alekseev to Butlerov, 9 January 1867, reproduced in Bykov, Pis’ma rus- 
skikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 19. 

65. Butlerov to Erlenmeyer, 23 July/4 August 1864, reproduced in G. W. Bykow 
and L. M. Bekassowa, “Beitrage zur Geschichte der Chemie der 60-er Jahre des XIX. 
Jahrhunderts: I. Briefwechsel zwischen E. Erlenmeyer und A. M. Butlerow (von 1862 
bis 1876),” Physis 8 (1966): 185-198, on 193. 

66. N. A. Golovkinskii to Butlerov, 11 March 1864, reproduced in Bykov, Pis’ma 
russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 97. 

67. On Beilstein’s assistance with many stages of the process, see Beilstein to 
Butlerov, 15/27 October 1867, reproduced in Elena Roussanova, Friedrich Konrad 
Beilstein, Chemiker zweier Nationen: Sein Lehen und Werk sowie einige Aspekte der 
deutsch-russischen Wissenschaftsbeziehungen in der zweiten Halfte des 19. Jahrhunderts 
im Spiegel seines brieflichen Nachlasses , vol. 2 (Hamburg: Norderstedt, 2007), 236. 

68. Markovnikov to Butlerov, 15/27 January [1867], reproduced in Bykov, Pis’ma 
russkikh khimikov kA. M. Butlerovu , 240. 

69. Beilstein to Erlenmeyer, 27 March 1861, reproduced in Roussanova, Friedrich 
Konrad Beilstein, 85. See also Beilstein to Erlenmeyer, 10 November 1861, reproduced 
in ibid., 78. 

70. Freidrich Beilstein, review of D. Mendelejeff’s Organische Chemie , Zeitschrift 
fur Chemie und Pharmacie 5 (1862): 271-276, on 271. 

71. Butlerov, Vvedenie k polnomu izucheniiu organicheskoi khimii , in Butlerov, So- 
chineniia , II: 12. 

72. Paul Walden, “Ocherk istorii khimii v Rossii,” in A. Ladenburg, Lektsii po is- 
torii razvitiia khimii do nashego vremeni , tr. from 4th ed. by E. S. El’chaninov (Odessa: 
Mathesis, 1917): 361-654, on 421. 

73. Markovnikov, “Sovremennaia khimiia i russkaia khimicheskaia promyshlen- 
nost’” (1879), in Markovnikov, Izbrannye trudy, ed. A. F. Plate and G. V. Bykov (Mos- 
cow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1955), 648. See also idem, “Moskovskaia rech’ o Butlerove,” ed. 
Iu. S. Musabekov, Trudy Instituta istorii estestvoznaniia i tekhniki 12 (1956): 135-181, 
on 161. 


Notes to Pages io$-ii2 

Chapter Four 

1. From L. Zamenhof, ed., Fundamenta Krestomatio de la lingvo Esperanto , 18th 
ed. (Rotterdam: Universala Esperanto-Asocio, 1992 [1903]), 181. 

2. Roland G. Kent, “The Scientist and an International Language,” Proceedings of 
the American Philosophical Society 6 3 (1924): 162-170, on 163. Kent advocated the 
revival of Latin. 

3. Luther H. Dyer, The Problem of an International Auxiliary Language and Its 
Solution in Ido (London: Putnam, 1923), 6-7. 

4. Leopold Pfaundler, “The Need for a Common Scientific Language,” in L. Cou- 
turat, O. Jespersen, R. Lorenz, W. Ostwald, and L. Pfaundler, International Language 
and Science: Considerations on the Introduction of an International Language into Sci- 
ence , tr. F. G. Donnan (London: Constable & Company, 1910): 1-10, on 2. 

5. L. Couturat and L. Leau, Histoire de la Langue Universelle (Paris: Librairie 
Hachette, 1903), ix. 

6. Louis Couturat, A Plea for an International Language (London: George J. 
Henderson, 1905), 8. 

7. Otto Jespersen, An International Language (London: George Allen & Unwin, 
1928), 14. 

8 . “Stated Meeting, January 6, 1888,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical So- 
ciety 25, no. 127 (1888): 1-18, on 4. 

9. Jespersen, “Nature and Art in Language,” American Speech 5 (1929): 89-103, 
on 89. 

10. Detlev Blanke, “The Term ‘Planned Language,’” in Humphrey Tonkin, ed., 
Esperanto , Interlinguistics, and Planned Language (Lanham, MD: University Press of 
America, 1997): 1-20; and Alicja Sakaguchi, “Towards a Clarification of the Func- 
tion and Status of International Planned Languages,” in Ulrich Ammon, ed., Status 
and Function of Languages and Language Varieties (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989): 
399-440. This terminology originated in a scholarly monograph dedicated to stan- 
dardizing technological nomenclature : Eugen Wiister, Internationale Sprachnormung 
in der Technik, besonders in der Elektrotechnik (Die nationale Sprachnormung und ihre 
Verallgemeinerung), 2d ed. (Bonn: H. Bouvier u. Co. Verlag, 1966). 

11. Louis Couturat, “Sur la langue internationale,” Revue des questions scientifiques 
52 (1902): 213-223. 

12. Louis Couturat, “Autour d’une Langue internationale,” La Revue 87 (1910): 
381-385, on 382. 

13. W. A. Oldfather, “Latin as an International Language,” Classical Journal 16 
(1921): 195-206. 

14. Albert Leon Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement 
(London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1922), 169. 

15. Giuseppe Peano, “De Latino sine flexione: Lingua auxiliare internationale,” 
Revista de mathematica 8 (1903): 74-83, on 74. Peano even replicated, in his own 
language, a statement highly reminiscent of the Babel-rousers quoted at the begin- 
ning of this chapter: “Conoscentia de tres aut quatuor lingua principale suffice ut nos 
lege, in originale aut in versione omne libro jam celebre. Sed hodie Russo, Polacco, 
Rumeno, Japonico, . . . publica in suo lingua libro originale, et non solo libro schola- 
stico” (p. 79). Ellipses in original. 

No tes to Pages 112 -118 355 

1 6. M. Monnerot-Dumain, Precis d’interlinguistique generale et speciale (Paris: 
Librairie Maloine, i960), 512. 

17. Couturat and Leau, Histoire de la Langue Universelle , 37. For more on Solre- 
sol, see Andrew Large, The Artificial Language Movement (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 
1985), 63. 

18. Richard Lorenz, “The Relationship of the International Language to Science,” 
in L. Couturat et al., International Language and Science (1910): 53-60, on 57. 

19. Jespersen, An International Language , 27. 

20. Karl Brugmann and August Leskien, Zur Kritik der kiinstlichen Weltsprachen 
(Strafiburg: Karl J. Triibner, 1907), 19. For a response to this pamphlet from a lin- 
guist, see J. Baudouin de Courtenay, Zur Kritik der kiinstlichen Weltsprachen (Leipzig: 
Verlag von Veit, 1908). 

21. Andrew Drummond, A Hand-Book ofVolapiik: And an Elementary Manual of 
its Grammar and Vocabulary , Prepared from the Gathered Papers of Gemmell Hunter 
Ibidem Justice, together with an Account of Events Relating to the Annual General Meet- 
ing of 1891 of the Edinburgh Society for the Propagation of a Universal Language: Edited 
for the First Time by Dr. Charles Cordiner (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2006). Today the 
term “volapuk” also refers to using Latin characters and Arabic numerals to render 
Cyrillic letters through their resemblances, so that m would be written w, and 6 by 
the number 6. This was once quite common in text messaging, and is unrelated to the 
language discussed here. 

22. Johann Martin Schleyer, Volapuk (Weltsprache): Grammatik der Universal- 
sprache fiir alle gebildete Erdbewohner, 4th. ed. (Uberlingen am Bodensee: August 
Feyel, 1884), iii. Ellipses in original. 

23. For example: Schleyer, Grammar with Vocabularies ofVolapiik (The Language 
of the World ) for all Speakers of the English Language , 2d. rev. ed., tr. W. A. Seret (Glas- 
gow: Thomas Murray & Son, 1887); and G. Krause, The Volapiik Commercial Corre- 
spondent (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1889). 

24. Frederick Bodmer, The Loom of Language (New York: W. W. Norton, 1944), 
460; Couturat and Leau, Histoire de la Langue Universelle , 141. For more on Vola- 
puk’s success in Paris, see Natasha Staller, “Babel: Hermetic Languages, Universal 
Languages, and Anti-Languages in Fin de Siecle Parisian Culture,” Art Bulletin 76 
(1994): 331-354. 

25. Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement , 103m 

26. Constitution of the Volapukaklub Noliimelopik, [1890?], Volapuk Exhibit, 

27. Quoted in Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement, 98. 

28. Alfred Kirchhoff, Volapiik, or Universal Language: A Short Grammatical 
Course , 3d ed. (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1888), 25. 

29. This point is emphasized in Guerard, A Short History of the International Lan- 
guage Movement , 105. 

30. Couturat and Leau, Histoire de la Langue Universelle , 142; Guerard, A Short 
History of the International Language Movement , 97; Peter G. Forster, The Esperanto 
Movement (The Hague: Mouton, 1982), 46-47. 

31. Large, The Artificial Language Movement, 69-70. 

32. Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement, 103. 

33. Quoted in Monnerot-Dumaine, Precis d’interlinguistique generale et speciale, 


Notes to Pages 118-123 

34. Ludwig Zamponi, Zur Frage der Einfiihrung einer internationalen Verkehrs- 
sprache (Graz: Leykam, 1904); Arie De Jong, Worterbuch der Weltsprache: Vodabuk 
Volapiika pro Deutdnapukans (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1931); and idem, Gramat Volapuka: 
Dabukot Balid Pelautol Ndmdtii e Zepu Kadam Volapuka (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1931). For 
Wikipedia, see: Ironically, most Volapii- 
kology and preservation of fragile and rare materials in the language takes place 
today through the medium of Esperanto. See Bernard Golden, “Conservation of the 
Heritage of Volapuk,” in Tonkin, ed ..Esperanto, Interlinguistics, and Planned Language 
(1997): 183-189. 

35. “Stated Meeting, January 6, 1888,” 10, 12, 16. This report had a large impact on 
L. L. Zamenhof himself. See Edmond Privat, Historio de la Lingvo Esperanto , vol. 1: 
Deveno kaj Komenco, 1887-1900 (Leipzig: Ferdinand Hirt & Sohn, 1923), 38. 

36. Lawrence A. Sharpe, “Language Projects,” South Atlantic Bulletin 27 (1961): 
1-6, on 4. 

37. For his own account, see L. L. Zamenhof, The Birth of Esperanto: Extract of a 
Private Letter of Dr. L. L. Zamenhof to N. Borovko , tr. Henry W. Hetzel (Fort Lee, NJ: 
Esperanto Association of North America, [1931]). For biographies, see Rene Centassi 
and Henri Masson, L’homme qui a defie Babel: Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (Paris: Edi- 
tions Ramsay, 1995); Marjorie Boulton, Zamenhof: Creator of Esperanto (London: 
Routledge and Kegan Paul, i960); and Edmond Privat, The Life of Zamenhof tr. 
Ralph Eliott (Oakville, ON: Esperanto Press, 1963 [1920]). 

38. Privat, Life of Zamenhof 48-49. 

39. Privat, Historio de la Lingvo Esperanto, I: 43; Forster, The Esperanto Movement, 57. 

40. Centassi and Masson, L’homme qui a defie Babel, 219; E. Drezen, Historio 
de la Mondolinguo: Tra Jarcentoj da Sercado, 2d ed., tr. N. Hohlov and N. Nekrasov 
(Leipzig: Ekrelo, 1931), 181. Exact numbers are quite difficult to calculate due to the 
unsystematic quality of statistics collection by Esperanto organizations, as discussed 
in Forster, The Esperanto Movement, 18. 

41. Boulton, Zamenhof, 6 2. The same kinds of criticisms of de Beaufront can be 
found in Centassi and Masson, L’homme qui a defie Babel, 21 1; and Privat, Life of 
Zamenhof, 85. 

42. W. J. Clark, International Language: Past, Present & Future (London: J. M. 
Dent, 1907), 109. Even the great Esperantist Edmond Privat, who despised the man, 
gave de Beaufront credit for his propagation of Esperanto in France: Privat, Historio 
de la Lingvo Esperanto, I: 63. 

43. Privat, Historio de la Lingvo Esperanto, I: 59m. 

44. Boulton, Zamenhof, 60; Privat, Historio de la Lingvo Esperanto, I: 59. 

45. Forster, The Esperanto Movement, 75-76. 

46. Zamenhof ’s views on these matters can be found in all the biographies and 
also Lazare Louis Zamenhof, Le Hillelisme: Projet de solution de la question juive, tr. 
Pierre Janton (Clermont-Ferrand: Association des publications de la Faculte des Let- 
tres et Sciences Humaines, 1995). On neutrality, whereby “toutes les questions reli- 
gieuses, politiques et sociales seraient rigoureusement exclues des seances publiques 
du Congres,” see L. Couturat and L. Leau, Les Nouvelles Langues Internationales: Suite 
a L’histoire de la Langue Universelle (Paris: M. L. Couturat, [1907]), 40. 

47. Quoted in Forster, The Esperanto Movement, 90. 

48. Dr. Esperanto [L. L. Zamenhof], Mezhdunarodnyi iazyk: Predislovie i polnyi 
uchebnik (Warsaw: Kh. Kel’ter, 1887), 28. 

Notes to Pages 123-131 


49. Zamenhof, Mezhdunarodnyi iazyk, 29. 

50. Forster, The Esperanto Movement, 6 2. 

51. Lorenz, “The Relationship of the International Language to Science,” 53. 

52. R. Mehmke, “Nuns Gletavik (Fovot 2 ld ),” Nunel Vdlemik, no. 2 (1889). Lorenz 
cited translations of Miess’s Craniology and Winkler’s Petrification of Fishes, but I 
have not been able to track these down. See Lorenz, “The Relationship of the Inter- 
national Language to Science,” 54. 

53. Zamenhof, Mezhdunarodnyi iazyk, 4-5. 

54. Editors of Internacia Scienca Revuo, “Nia celo,” Internacia Scienca Revuo 1, 
no. 1 (January 1904): 1. 

55. Iv. Chetverikov to Mendeleev, 30 November 1904, ADIM II-V-24-Ch. The 
translation appeared as D. Mendelejev, “Provo de kemia kompreno de l’monda 
etero,” tr. Icet-Verikov, Internacia Scienca Revuo 1, no. 6 (June 1904): 161-167; no * 7 
(July 1904): 202-208; no. 8 (August 1904): 225-231. For more on Mendeleev’s ether 
project, see Michael D. Gordin, A Well-Ordered Thing: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the 
Shadow of the Periodic Table (New York: Basic Books, 2004), chapter 8. 

56. Paul Fruictier, “Unu jaro,” Internacia Scienca Revuo 2, no. 13 (January 1905): 
1-4, on 1. 

57. Karl F. Kellerman, “The Advance of International Language,” Science N.S. 30, 
no. 780 (10 December 1909): 843-844. 

58. Clark, International Language, hi. 

59. R. van Melckebeke and Th. Renard, “Projekto de kemia nomaro esperanta,” 
Internacia Scienca Revuo 1, no. 1 (January 1904): 22-25, on 22 * 

60. Melckebeke and Renard, “Projekto de kemia nomaro esperanta,” 23. 

61. In “Korespondado,” Internacia Scienca Revuo 1, no. 3 (March 1904): 92-95, 
on 92. 

62. In “Korespondado,” (March 1904), 93. 

63. In “Korespondado,” Internacia Scienca Revuo 1, no. 4 (April 1904): 123-128, 
on 123. 

64. In “Korespondado,” (April 1904), 125. 

65. In “Korespondado,” Internacia Scienca Revuo 1, no. 5 (May 1904): 156-158, 
on 156. 

66. Amiko, “Terminaro de l’neorganika kemio sub vidpunkto de esperantisto,” 
Internacia Scienca Revuo 1, no. 4 (April 1904): 120-122. 

67. Quoted in Richard Lorenz, “The ‘Delegation pour l’adoption d’une langue 
auxiliare internationale,” in L. Couturat et al., International Language and Science 
(1910): 11-26, on 13. 

68. See letter #1 reproduced in Karl Hansel and Fritz Wollenberg, eds., Aus dem 
Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds zur Einfuhrung einer Weltsprache, Mitteilungen der 
Wilhelm- Ostwald-Gesellschaft zu Grofibothen e.V., Sonderheft 6 (1999), 25. 

69. Couturat and Leau, Histoire de la Langue Universelle, xii. 

70. Clark, International Language, 30. 

Chapter Five 

i. Otto Jespersen, “Finala Diskurso,” Progreso 7, no. 1 (73) (15 January 1914): 1-6, 
on 4. This was Jespersen’s final lecture of a small series on the problem of a world lan- 


Notes to Pages 13 2 -137 

guage at the University of Copenhagen in 1913. He delivered it entirely in Ido, with- 
out preparing the students beforehand. 

2. Wilhelm Ostwald, Lebenslinien: Eine Selbstbiographie , 3 vol. (Berlin: Klasing & 
Co., 1927), III: 146-147. Chapter 5 concerns “Die Weltsprache.” 

3. Ostwald, Lebenslinien , III:i4i. 

4. Albert Leon Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement 
(London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1922), 177. For detailed information on Ostwald’s in- 
volvement with constructed languages, see Gunter Anton, “Die Tatigkeit Professor 
Wilhelm Ostwalds fur die internationale Sprache IDO,” Mitteilungen der Wilhelm- 
Ostwald-Gesellschaft zu Grofbothen e.V. 8, no. 4 (2003): 16-26. 

5. Wilhelm Ostwald, “Pri la problemo de la helpa lingvo. II. La mondlingvo,” tr. 
Dr. Helte, Internacia Scienca Revuo 1, no. 10 (October 1904): 289-295. 

6. Ostwald, Lebenslinien , 111:151. 

7. Reproduced in Hans- Gunther Korber, ed., Aus dem wissenschaftlichen Brief- 
wechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds, II. Teil: Briefwechsel mit Svante Arrhenius und Jacobus 
Hendricus Van’t Hoff (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1969), 196. 

8. Letter of 24 March 1907, reproduced in Karl Hansel and Fritz Wollenberg, eds., 
Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds zur Einfuhrung einer Weltsprache , Mitteilun- 
gen der Wilhelm-Ostwald-Gesellschaft zu Grofbothen e.V, Sonderheft 6 (1999), 42. 

9. From the William James Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University, as 
quoted in Niles R. Holt, “Wilhelm Ostwald’s ‘The Bridge,”’ British Journal for the 
History of Science 10 (1977): 146-150, on I49ni2. 

10. Reproduced in Ostwald, Lebenslinien , 111:143-144. 

11. Wilhelm Ostwald, Sprache und Verkehr (Leipzig: Akademische Verlagsgesell- 
schaft, 1911), 8. 

12. Ostwald paraphrased in Edwin E. Slosson, Major Prophets of To-Day (Boston: 
Little, Brown, and Company, 1916), 222. 

13. Wilhelm Ostwald, “Die Weltsprache,” reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, 
Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds: 4-14. 

14. For surveys of the events chronicled in this chapter, see for example Guerard, 
A Short History of the International Language Movement, chapter 7; E. Drezen, Histo- 
rio de la Mondolinguo: Tra Jarcentoj da Sercado , 2d ed., tr. N. Hohlov and N. Nekra- 
sov (Leipzig: Ekrelo, 1931), chapter 2 (from the Esperantist point of view); and Ward 
Nichols, “The Decision of the Delegation/La Decido Di La Delegitaro,” Internation- 
alist 2, no. 2 (6) (April-May 1910): 18-19 (from the Idist side). A comprehensive bib- 
liography of Ido publications can be found in Tazio Carlevaro and Reinhard Haupt- 
enthal, Bibliografio di Ido (Bellinzona: Hans Dubois, 1999). 

15. Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement, 146-147. 

16. Ostwald, Lebenslinien, IIL165. 

17. Peter G. Forster, The Esperanto Movement (The Hague: Mouton, 1982), 121-122. 

18. Otto Jespersen, A Linguist's Life, eds. Arne Juul, Hans F. Nielsen, and Jorgen 
Erik Nielsen, tr. David Stoner (Odense: Odense University Press, 1995 [1938]), 149. 
This is the translation of his Danish autobiography: En Sprogmands Levned (Copen- 
hagen: Nordisk Forlag, 1938). 

19. Jespersen, A Linguist’s Life, 150. 

20. Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement, 136-140. 

21. Otto Jespersen, “The Linguistic Principles Necessary for the Construction of 

Notes to Pages 137-142 


an International Auxiliary Language, with Appendix: Criticism of Esperanto,” in 

L. Couturat, O. Jespersen, R. Lorenz, W. Ostwald, and L. Pfaundler, International 
Language and Science : Considerations on the Introduction of an International Language 
into Science , tr. F. G. Donnan (London: Constable & Company, 1910): 27-41, on 30. 

22. W. J. Clark, International Language: Past, Present & Future (London: J. M. 
Dent, 1907), 99. 

23. Reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ost- 
walds , 34-35. 

24. Ostwald, Lehenslinien , IIL155. 

25. Ostwald to Carlo Bourlet, 16 June 1907, reproduced in Hansel and Wollen- 
berg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds , 47. 

26. Ostwald, Lehenslinien , IIL167; Jespersen, A Linguist’s Life, 150. 

27. Jespersen, A Linguist’s Life, 150-151. On “middle course,” see Otto Jespersen, 
An International Language (London: George Allen & Uwin, 1928), 42. 

28. Quoted in Louis Couturat, “Le choix d’une langue internationale,” Revue du 
Mois 7 (January-June 1909): 708-724, on 709. 

29. Friedrich Schneeberger, “Pri la nomo di nia linguo,” Progresso 2, no. 4 (16) 
(June 1909): 229. 

30. Couturat, “Averto,” Progresso 2, no. 4 (16) (June 1909): 2. Emphasis in original. 

31. Max Talmey, “The Auxiliary Language Question,” Modern Language Journal 
23 (1938): 172-186, on 177; Jespersen , An International Language, 43. 

32. Otto Jespersen, “International Language,” Science N.S. 30, no. 776 (12 Novem- 
ber 1909): 677. 

33. That program also had plurals in i, invariable adjectives, and no accusative, but 
in addition eliminated the definite article and had verbal endings of en, in, and on. 

M. Monnerot-Dumain, Precis d’interlinguistique gener ale et speciale (Paris: Librairie 
Maloine, i960), 103. 

34. Couturat, “Le choix d’une langue internationale,” 720. 

35. Louis Couturat, “Des rapports de la logique et de la linguistique dans le pro- 
blems de la langue internationale,” Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale 19 (1911): 
509-516, on 512. Emphasis in original. Other Idists believed that credit had been 
“unjustly ascribed to Ostwald” (Max Talmey, “Word Derivation in a Logical Lan- 
guage,” Modern Language Journal 24 [1940]: 617-628, on 620), and indeed one can 
find references to this notion in many nineteenth-century projects. 

36. Wilhelm Ostwald, “Chemische Weltliteratur,” Zeitschrift fur physikalische 
Chemie 76 (January 1911): 1-20, on 5. Emphasis in original. 

37. Otto Jespersen, “International Language,” Science N.S. 31, no. 786 (21 January 
1910): 109-112, on 109-110. 

38. Esperanto was vulnerable to the same criticism. See Louvan E. Nolting, “The 
Deficiency of Esperanto as a World Language,” Federal Linguist 5, no. 1-2 (1973): 

39. Jespersen, “The Linguistic Principles Necessary for the Construction,” 28, 31. 
Emphasis in original. 

40. Louis Couturat, “Pour la langue auxiliaire neutre,” Revue internationale de 
I’enseignement 58 (1909): 255-259, on 256; Luther H. Dyer, The Problem of an Inter- 
national Auxiliary Language and Its Solution in Ido (London: Putnam, 1923), 115-116; 
Jespersen, “The Linguistic Principles Necessary for the Construction,” 32. 


Notes to Pages 142-146 

41. Couturat, “D’une application de la logique au probleme de la langue interna- 
tionale,” Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale 16 (1908): 761-769, on 768. 

42. Couturat, “D’une application de la logique au probleme de la langue interna- 
tionale,” 764. Emphasis in original. 

43. Clark , International Language, 3m 

44. Reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ost- 
ia aids, 55. 

45. Reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ost- 
walds , 57. Emphasis in original. 

46. Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement, 149. 

47. Louis Couturat and Leopold Leau, Histoire de la Langue Universelle (Paris: 
Librairie Hachette, 1903), 152. 

48. Ostwald, Sprache und Verkehr, 23. See also Jespersen, An International Lan- 
guage, 36; Richard Lorenz, “The ‘Delegation pour l’adoption d’une langue auxiliare 
internationale,”’ in L. Couturat et al., International Language and Science (1910): 
11-26, on 16; and P. Ahlberg, “A Few Statistics,” Internationalist 2, no. 4 (8) (July 
1910): 63-65, on 65. 

49. Reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ost- 
walds, 55-56. 

50. Reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ost- 
walds, 65. Emphasis in original. 

51. Quoted in “Pri la alvoko ‘Al la Delegitaro, al la Esperantistaro,”’ Internacia 
Scienca Revuo 5, no. 49 (January 1908): 15-18, on 17. Emphasis in original. This letter 
was written in German and translated by the editors into Esperanto. 

52. Ernest Naville et al., “Al la Delegitaro, al la Esperantistaro,” Internacia Scienca 
Revuo 4, no. 48 (December 1907): 389-393, on 392. 

53. Naville et al., “Al la Esperantistaro,” Internacia Scienca Revuo 5, no. 49 (Janu- 
ary 1908): 3-6, on 5. 

54. See the very detailed letter by Baudoin de Courtenay, who had been a mem- 
ber of the Delegation committee, reproduced in Edmond Privat, Historio de la Lingvo 
Esperanto, vol. 2: La Movado, 1900-1927 (Leipzig: Ferdinand Hirt & Sohn, 1927), 

55. Quoted in Rene Centassi and Henri Masson, L’homme qui a defie Babel: Lud- 
wik Lejzer Zamenhof (Paris: Editions Ramsay, 1995), 249. 

56. Walter B. Sterrett, “To Esperantists and Idists; Importance of Mutual Good 
Will,” Internationalist 1, no. 2 (July 1909): 5-6, on 5; Walther Borgius, Warum ich 
Esperanto verlief: Eine Studie uber die gegenwartige Krisis und die Zukunft der 
Weltsprachen-Bewegung (Berlin: Liebheit & Thiesen, 1908). 

57. David K. Jordan, “Esperanto and Esperantism: Symbols and Motivations in 
a Movement for Linguistic Equality,” in Humphrey Tonkin, ed., Esperanto, Inter- 
linguistics, and Planned Language (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1997), 
39-65, on 43; Forster, The Esperanto Movement, 135-136. 

58. Reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ost- 
walds, 66. 

59. Reproduced in Marjorie Boulton, Zamenhof: Creator of Esperanto (London: 
Routledge and Kegan Paul, i960), 126. 

60. Jespersen, A Linguist’s Life, 153. 

Notes to Pages 146-150 


61. Louis de Beaufront, “Declaration de Ido/Deklaro de Ido,” L’Esperantiste 11 
(May 1908): 97-100, on 97 and 99. 

62. See, for example, Edmond Privat, The Life ofZamenhof tr. Ralph Eliott (Oak- 
ville, ON: Esperanto Press, 1963 [1920]), 82-83. 

63. Jespersen, A Linguist’s Life , 149. The same phrasing is used in Jespersen, An 
International Language , 42. 

64. Drezen, Historio de la Mondolinguo, 185; Privat, Historio de la Lingvo Espe- 
ranto , II: 58. 

65. Boulton, Zamenhof 131. 

66. Forster, The Esperanto Movement, 130 (quotation); Monnerot-Dumaine, Precis 
d’interlinguistique generale et spe dale, 41. 

67. Ostwald, Sprache und Verkehr , 29. On the symbolism provided by de Beau- 
front’s authorship, see Privat, Historio de la Lingvo Esperanto, II: 57. 

68. G. Aymonier and L. Couturat, “Ido et Esperanto,” Revue du Mois 9 (January- 
June 1910): 219-229; Louis Couturat, “Entre l’ldo et l’Esperanto,” Revue mondiale 
(April 1912): 381-392; idem, “Ido ou fran^ais,” La grande revue (25 February 1910): 
791-793; idem, “Entre Idistes et Esperantistes,” La Revue 78 (1909): 110-113. 

69. Louis Couturat, “‘Wait until Zamenhof is Dead’/‘Expektez la Morto di 
Zamenhof!,’” Internationalist 2, no. 5-6 (August-September 1910): 77-81, on 80. 
Emphasis in original. See also idem, “Makiavelatra Taktiko,” Progreso 2, no. 8 (20) 
(October 1909): 449-452, on 450. 

70. Couturat, “L’ldo devant la science: Lettre ouverte a M. A. Cotton, Professeur 
a la Sorbonne,” La Langue Auxiliaire 3 (1910): 21-27, on 22 * 

71. Couturat, “Ido contre Esperanto,” La cooperation des idees (1912): 444-449, 
on 446. 

72. Letter of 4 November 1907, reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus dem 
Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds , 57. 

73. Jordan, “Esperanto and Esperantism,” 43. 

74. Drezen, Historio de la Mondolinguo, 186. 

75. Couturat, “Pri Nia Metodo,” Progreso 2, no. 10 (22) (December 1909): 579- 
582, on 580-581. 

76. Couturat, “Le choix d’une langue internationale,” 722. 

77. Lorenz, “The ‘Delegation pour l’adoption d’une langue auxiliare interna- 
tionale,”’ 20. 

78. Jespersen, “The Linguistic Principles Necessary for the Construction,” 37. In 
1924, in a general linguistic text, he would repeatedly invoke Ido as an example of 
the rational development of language: Otto Jespersen, The Philosophy of Grammar 
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992 [1924]), 41, 60, 136, 208m, 232, 321m. 
For Couturat, see for example his “On the Application of Logic to the Problem of an 
International Language,” in L. Couturat et al., International Language and Science 
(1910): 41-52. 

79. Couturat, “Le choix d’une langue internationale,” 723. 

80. Leopold Pfaundler, “The Need for a Common Scientific Language,” in L. Cou- 
turat et al., International Language and Science (1910): 1-10, on 6. 

81. Couturat, “Entre Idistes et Esperantistes,” 112. 

82. Jespersen, “International Language [1910],” 112. 

83. Nichols, “Hear the Other Side,” Internationalist, no. 3-4 (February 1910): 8-9, 


Notes to Pages i$ 0-/55 

on 9. For Couturat’s interest in Lamarck, see his “La Stabileso di la Vivo,” Progreso 
5, no 3 (51) (May 1912): 140-141. This issue of Progreso contains several articles on 
Gregor Mendel, on Lamarck, and on heredity in general — all translated into Ido by 

84. Couturat, “Autour d’une Langue internationale,” La Revue 87 (1910): 381-385, 
on 383-384. Emphasis in original. 

85. See E. H. MacPike, “La Praktikal Utileso di Ido/The Practical Usefulness of 
Ido,” Internationalist , no. 3-4 (February 1910): 11-12; C. S. Pearson, “Kiropraktiko,” 
Internationalist 2, no. 2 (6) (April-May 1910): 28; and Louis Couturat, Internaciona 
matematikal lexiko en Ido, Germana, Angla, Franca, e Italiana (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 

86. Reproduced in Korber, ed., Aus dem wissenschaftlichen Briefwechsel Wilhelm 
Ostwalds , 320. 

87. Reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ost- 
walds , 1 13. 

88. Quoted in “Prof. William Ostwald and International Language,” Internation- 
alist , no. 3-4 (February 1910): 12-13, on J 3* On the donation, see also Grete Ostwald, 
Wilhelm Ostwald: Mein Vater (Stuttgart: Berliner Union, 1953), no; Slosson, Major 
Prophets of To-Day, 222m; and Eugen Wiister, Internationale Sprachnormung in der 
Technik, hesonders in der Elektrotechnik (Die nationale Sprachnormung und ihre Ver- 
allgemeinerung), 2d ed. (Bonn: H. Bouvier u. Co. Verlag, 1966), 335. 

89. Slosson , Major Prophets of To-Day, 223. 

90. Wilhelm Ostwald, “The Question of Nomenclature,” in L. Couturat et al., 
International Language and Science (1910): 61-68, on 61, 67. 

91. Letter of 4 January 1911, reproduced in Korber, ed.,Aus dem wissenschaftlichen 
Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds, 322. 

92. Reproduced in Korber, ed., Aus dem wissenschaftlichen Briefwechsel Wilhelm 
Ostwalds, 323. 

93. See the letters to Ostwald of 24 and 31 December 1910, reproduced in Hansel 
and Wollenberg, Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds, 124. 

94. Reproduced in Korber, ed., Aus dem wissenschaftlichen Briefwechsel Wilhelm 
Ostwalds, 323-325, quotation on 325. 

95. See the letter of 25 January 1901, reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, Aus 
dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds, 129. 

96. Ostwald, Lebenslinien, IIL176. 

97. Ostwald, “Chemische Weltliteratur,” ini. 

98. Ostwald, “Chemische Weltliteratur,” 2-3. 

99. Ostwald, “Chemische Weltliteratur,” 7. 

100. Ostwald, “Memorial on the Foundation of an International Chemical Insti- 
tute,” Science N.S. 40, no. 1022 (31 July 1914): 147-158, on 155. 

101. Alexander Batek, “Pri la hernia nomigado,” Internacia Scienca Revuo 6, nos. 
68-69 (August-September 1909): 264-266, on 265. For Couturat’s accusations of 
plagiarism, see Progreso 5, no. 3 (51) (May 1912): 162. 

102. Maurice Rollet de Lisle, “Konsilaro por la farado de la sciencaj kaj tekni- 
kaj vortoj,” Internacia Sciencia Revuo 7, no. 83 (November 1910): 279-295; no. 84 
(December 1910): 311-334; 8, no. 85 (January 1911): 1-21; no. 86 (February 1911): 


Notes to Pages 156-16$ 


103. Ostwald, “Memorial on the Foundation of an International Chemical Insti- 
tute,” 147, 155. On the Bridge, see Holt, “Wilhelm Ostwald’s ‘Tlie Bridge,’” although 
at points this piece is unreliable. For example, on p. 146 Holt claims that the universal 
language promoted by Ostwald was Esperanto. 

104. Otto Jespersen, “Grava Propozo,” Internationalist 2, no. 3 (7) (June 1910): 
45-46, on 45 (Jespersen) and 46 (Couturat). Couturat had earlier been a fierce de- 
fender of eternal experimentation: Couturat, “Entre l’Ido et l’Esperanto,” 390-391. 

105. F. Schneeberger and L. Couturat, “Pri la periodo di stabileso,” Progreso 5, 
no. 3 (51) (May 1912): 191. On Solothurn, see Progreso 7, no. 4 (76) (April 1914): 197. 
In his history of constructed languages, Esperantist Ernest Drezen was convinced 
that the period of stability had damaged Ido by restricting innovation and dampen- 
ing advocates’ enthusiasm: Drezen, Historio de la Mon do linguo, 187. 

106. Guerard, A Short History of the International Language Movement , 1 22-1 23. 

107. Wiister, Internationale Sprachnormung in der Technik , 335; Drezen, Historio 
de la Mondolinguo, 198-199. 

Chapter Six 

1. Franz Thierfelder, Die deutsche Sprache imAusland , 2 v. (Hamburg: R. v. Decker, 
1956-1957), I:i8. 

2. Quoted in Gunter Anton, “Die Tatigkeit Professor Wilhelm Ostwalds fur 
die internationale Sprache IDO,” Mitteilungen der Wilhelm- Ostwald- Gesellsch aft zu 
Grofibothen e.V 8, no. 4 (2003): 16-26, on 22. Ellipses in original. 

3. Wilhelm Ostwald, “Weltdeutsch,” Monistische Sonntagspredigten, no. 36 (31 
October 1915): 545-559, on 553. 

4. Ostwald, “Weltdeutsch,” 555-556. 

5. Ostwald, “Weltdeutsch,” 5 57. J. A. Large attributes the program of Weltdeutsch 
to a Professor Baumann in Munich, also in 1915. Large, The Foreign-Language Barrier: 
Problems in Scientific Communication (London: Andre Deutsch, 1983), 148 . 1 have not 
been able to demonstrate a connection between Baumann and Ostwald. 

6. Leopold Pfaundler to Wilhelm Ostwald, 30 December 1915, reproduced in Karl 
Hansel and Fritz Wollenberg, eds., Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds zur Ein- 
fuhrung einer Weltsprache, Mitteilungen der Wilhelm-Ostwald-Gesellschaft zu Grofi- 
bothen e.V, Sonderheft 6 (1999), 147. 

7. Ostwald to Pfaundler, 12 January 1916, reproduced in Hansel and Wollenberg, 
Aus dem Briefwechsel Wilhelm Ostwalds , 148. 

8. Otto Jespersen to Franz Boas, 4 December 1914, Franz Boas Papers, Mss.B.B6i, 
APSL, Folder: “Jespersen, Otto.” 

9. A. Meillet, Les langues dans VEurope nouvelle (Paris: Payot & Cie, 1918), 292. 

10. Felix Henneguy, “Du role de l’Allemagne dans revolution des sciences biolo- 
giques,” Revue scientifique 53 (27 February-6 March 1915): 70-74, on 71. 

11. W. F. Twaddell, “Standard German,” Anthropological Linguistics 1, no. 3 (1959): 
1-7, on 1; Ulrich Ammon, Die internationale Stellung der deutschen Sprache (Berlin: 
Walter de Gruyter, 1991), 27. 

12. W. B. Lockwood, An Informal History of the German Language (Cambridge: 
W. Heffer and Sons, 1965), 116. 


Notes to Pages i6$-i69 

13. Ruth H. Sanders, German : Biography of a Language (New York: Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, 2010), 98; R. E. Keller, The German Language ([Atlantic Highlands], 
NJ: Humanities Press, 1978), 237. 

14. Twaddell, “Standard German,” 1, 3; Lockwood, An Informal History of the Ger- 
man Language , 109; Keller, The German Language , 338-339. 

15. Jeanne Pfeiffer, “La creation d’une langue mathematique allemande par Al- 
brecht Diirer. Les raisons de sa non reception,” in Roger Chartier and Pietro Corsi, 
eds., Sciences et langues en Europe (Paris: European Communities, 2000 [1994]): 77- 

1 6. Quoted in Adolf Bach, Geschichte der deutschen Sprache , 8th ed. (Heidelberg: 
Quelle & Meyer, 1965 [1938]), 331. 

17. Ulrich Ricken, “Zum Thema Christian Wolff und die Wissenschaftssprache 
der deutschen Aufklarung,” in Heinz L. Kretzenbacher and Harald Weinrich, eds., 
Linguistik der Wissenschaftssprache (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995): 41-90; Eric A. 
Blackall, The Emergence of German as a Literary Language, 1700-177$, 2d ed. (Ithaca: 
Cornell University Press, 1978 [1959]). 

18. Lockwood, An Informal History of the German Language , 129-130. 

19. Such figures are standard in any history of German. See, for example: Bach, 
Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, 309; W. Walker Chambers and John R. Wilkie, 
A Short History of the German Language (London: Methuen & Co, 1970), 4 6; Keller, 
The German Language, 360, 485. 

20. Denise Phillips, Acolytes of Nature: Defining Natural Science in Germany, 
1770-18SO (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 75, 109-m. 

21. Quoted in Keller, The German Language, 487. 

22. Keller, The German Language, 487; see also Richard Games Brunt, The Influ- 
ence of the French Language on the German Vocabulary (1649-17$$) (Berlin: Walter 
de Gruyter, 1983). 

23. There are many excellent studies that track these developments. For the so- 
cial transformation, see Peter Borscheid,, Staat und Industrie in 
Baden (1848-1914) (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1976); for the intellectual developments, 
see Alan J. Rocke, The Quiet Revolution: Hermann Kolbe and the Science of Organic 
Chemistry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). 

24. Owen Hannaway, “The German Model of Chemical Education in America: 
Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins (1876-1913),” Ambix 23 (1976): 145-164. While Rem- 
sen was studying chemistry at Tubingen, he ran courses for English-speaking stu- 
dents to get them up to snuff on the language so they could sustain their oral exami- 

25. Jeffrey Allan Johnson, The Kaiser’s Chemists: Science and Modernization in Im- 
perial Germany (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 29-30. 

26. William Coleman, ed., French Views of German Science (New York: Arno Press, 
1981); Robert Fox, “The View over the Rhine: Perceptions of German Science and 
Technology in France, 1860-1914,” in Yves Cohen and Klaus Manfrass, eds., Frank- 
reich und Deutschland: Forschung, Technologie und industrielle Entwicklung im 19. und 
2o.Jahrhundert (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1990): 14-24; Maurice Crosland, Science under 
Control: The French Academy of Sciences, I79$-I9i4 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- 
sity Press, 1992); and Harry W. Paul, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: The French Scientist’s 
Image of German Science, 1840-1919 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1972). 

Notes to Pages 169 -174 365 

27. Henneguy, “Du role de l’Allemagne dans revolution des sciences biologiques 
7 i- 

28. Adolphe Wiirtz, Dictionnaire de chimie pure et appliquee (Paris: Hachette, 
1869), I: i. 

29. Jakob Volhard, “Die Begrundung der Chemie durch Lavoisier,” Journal 
fur praktische Chemie no, N.F. 2 (1870): 1-47. On the tradition of anti-Lavoisier 
polemics, see Hans-Georg Schneider, “The ‘Fatherland of Chemistry’: Early Nation- 
alistic Currents in Late Eighteenth Century German Chemistry,” Ambix 36 (1989): 

30. Hermann Kolbe, “Ueber den Zustand der Chemie in Frankreich ,” Journal fur 
praktische Chemie no, N.F. 2 (1870): 173-183, on 177. 

31. Rudolf Fittig to Emil Erlenmeyer, 5 March 1872, HBA. 

32. N. Zinin, A. Butlerow, D. Mendelejew, and A. Engelhardt, “[Letter to the Edi- 
tor],” St. -Petersburger Zeitung 9, no. 271 (21 October 1870): 4. The Russian Chemical 
Society seconded these sentiments: Minutes of meeting of 8 October 1870, ZhRF- 
KhO 2 (1870): 253. 

33. Wurtz to Butlerov, 1 January 1874, reproduced in G. V. Bykov and J. Jacques, 
“Deux pionniers de la chimie moderne, Adolphe Wurtz et Alexandre M. Boutlerov, 
d’apres une correspondance inedite,” Revue d’Historie des Sciences 13 (i960): 115-134, 
on 127. 

34. Jakob Volhard, “Berichtigung,” Journal fur praktische Chemie no, N.F. 2 
(1870): 381-384, on 384. 

35. Liebig to Kolbe, 19 November 1870, reproduced in Alan J. Rocke and Emil 
Heuser, eds ., Justus von Liebig und Hermann Kolbe in ihren Briefen, 1846-1873 (Mann- 
heim: Bionomica, 1994), 119. 

36. Rocke, The Quiet Revolution, 346; idem, Nationalizing Science: Adolphe Wurtz 
and the Battle for French Chemistry (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 333-334. 

37. Helmholtz to his wife, 14 September 1853, in Richard L. Kremer, ed., Letters 
of Hermann von Helmholtz to His Wife, 1847-1839 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 
1990), 134. See also 105 and 120 . 1 would like to thank Rich Kremer for bringing these 
letters to my attention. 

38. Helmholtz to his wife, 16 August 1851, in Kremer, Letters of Hermann von 
Helmholtz to His Wife , 64. 

39. Rocke, The Quiet Revolution, 69 and 341. 

40. Bach, Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, 409. 

41. Rainald Von Gizycki, “Centre and Periphery in the International Scientific 
Community: Germany, France and Great Britain in the 19th Century,” Minerva 11 

(i973): 474-494. on 477. 

42. Meillet, Les langues dans TEurope nouvelle, 295. 

43. Brigitte Schroder- Gudehus, “Deutsche Wissenschaft und internationale Zu- 
sammenarbeit, 1914-1928: Ein Beitrag zum Studium kultureller Beziehungen in 
politischen Krisenzeiten” (PhD dissertation, University of Geneva, 1966), 42-43. 
See also idem, ed., “Les Congres Scientifiques Internationaux,” Relations internatio- 
nal 6 2 (1990): in-211. 

44. The manifesto is reproduced in Jurgen von Ungern-Sternberg and Wolfgang 
von Ungern-Sternberg, Der Aufruf “An die Kulturwelt!”: Das Manifest der 93 und die 
Anfdnge der Kriegspropaganda im Ersten Weltkrieg (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 
1996), 144-157, quotation on 144. 


Notes to Pages 174-177 

45. For Max Planck’s later defense (in a letter to Dutch physicist Hendrik A. 
Lorentz), see Armin Hermann, ed., Max Planck in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddoku- 
menten (Hamburg: Rohwolt, 1973), 54. 

46. For a survey of German chemical warfare in World War I, and especially 
Haber’s role, see L. F. Haber, The Poisonous Cloud: Chemical Warfare in the First 
World War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). 

47. Roy MacLeod, “Der wissenschaftliche Internationalismus in der Krise: Die 
Akademien der Alliierten und ihre Reaktion auf den Ersten Weltkrieg,” tr. Peter 
Jaschner, in Die Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 1914-194$ (Ber- 
lin: Wolfram Fischer, 2000): 317-349. 

48. Henneguy, “Du role de l’Allemagne dans revolution des sciences biologiques,” 
73 - 

49. Carolyn N. Biltoft, “Speaking the Peace: Language, World Politics and the 
League of Nations, 1918-1935” (PhD dissertation, Princeton University, 2010), 
28-29; Ammon, Die internationale Stellung der deutschen Sprache , 289. 

50. Brigitte Schroeder-Gudehus, Les scientifiques et la paix: La communaute sci- 
entifique internationale au cours des annees 20 (Montreal: Presses de l’Universite de 
Montreal, 1978), 131. 

51. Schroder- Gudehus, “Deutsche Wissenschaft und internationale Zusammen- 
arbeit”; idem, “Challenge to Transnational Loyalties: International Scientific Orga- 
nizations after the First World War,” Science Studies 3, no. 2 (April 1973): 93-118; 
Daniel J. Kevles, “‘Into Hostile Political Camps’: The Reorganization of Interna- 
tional Science in World War I,” Isis 62, no. 1 (Spring 1971): 47-60; Lawrence Badash, 
“British and American Views of the German Menace in World War I,” Notes and 
Records of the Royal Society of London 34 (1979): 91-121. For an interesting Marxist ac- 
count from East Germany, see Siegfried Grundmann, “Zum Boykott der deutschen 
Wissenschaft nach dem ersten Weltkrieg,” Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Techni- 
schen Univer sit at Dresden 14, no. 3 (1965): 799-805. 

52. A. G. Cock, “Chauvinism and Internationalism in Science: The International 
Research Council, 1919-1926,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 37, 
no. 2 (March 1983): 249-288, on 249. 

53. Roswitha Reinbothe, Deutsch als internationale Wissenschaftssprache und der 
Boykott nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2006), 15 0-15 1. 

54. Reinbothe, Deutsch als internationale Wissenschaftssprache und der Boykott , 
204-205; Ulrich Ammon, “German as an International Language of the Sciences — 
Recent Past and Present,” in Andreas Gardt and Bernd Huppauf, eds., Globalization 
and the Future of German (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2004): 157-172, on 163. 

55. See Arnold Sommerfeld to Albert Einstein, 4 July 1921, reproduced in Armin 
Hermann, Albert Einstein/ Arnold Sommerfeld Briefwechsel: Sechzig Briefe aus dem 
goldenen Zeitalter der modernen Physik (Basel/Stuttgart: Schwabe & Co., 1968), 81. 

56. Reinbothe, Deutsch als internationale Wissenschaftssprache und der Boykott , 
288, 342; Schroeder-Gudehus, Les scientifiques et la paix, 244-245. 

57. Ludwig Aschoff, “Der Geist von Locarno und die Wissenschaft,” Frankfurter 
Zeitung (1 May 1926). 

58. Schroder- Gudehus, “Deutsche Wissenschaft und internationale Zusammen- 
arbeit,” 191. 

Notes to Pages 178-182 


59. Schroeder-Gudehus, Les scientifiques et lapaix , 123. 

60. Robert Marc Friedman, The Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Sci- 
ence (New York: W. H. Freeman, 2001), 77. 

61. Friedman, The Politics of Excellence, 187. 

62. Susan Gross Solomon, “Introduction: Germany, Russia, and Medical Co- 
operation between the Wars,” in Solomon, ed., Doing Medicine Together: Germany 
and Russia between the Wars (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006): 3-31, on 
3-6; Elizabeth Hachten, “How to Win Friends and Influence People: Heinz Zeiss, 
Boundary Objects, and the Pursuit of Cross-National Scientific Collaboration in 
Microbiology,” in ibid.: 159-198, on 166; Ljudmila Nosdrina, “Deutsch als interna- 
tionale Wissenschaftssprache in Russland ,” in Ulrich Ammon and Dirk Kemper, 
eds., Die deutsche Sprache in Russland: Geschichte, Gegenwart, Zukunftsperspektiven 
(Munich: Iudicium, 2011): 106-111, on 108. Of course, Soviet scientists, especially 
mathematicians, also published in French. See Jean-Michel Kantor, “Mathematics 
East and West, Theory and Practice: The Example of Distributions,” Mathematical 
Intelligencer 26, no. 1 (2004): 39-50, on 41. 

63. Austin M. Patterson, “International Chemistry,” Science N.S. 69, no. 1795 (24 
May 1929): 531-536, on 532; Roger Fennell, History of IUPAC, 1919-1987 (Oxford: 
Blackwell Science, 1994), 3-4. In 1912, Ido was put forward to be the language for 
this chemical association. The proposal was rejected (ibid., 8). 

64. Edwin Bidwell Wilson, “Insidious Scientific Control,” Science 48, no. 1246 (15 
November 1918): 491-493, on 491. 

65. Wilson, “Insidious Scientific Control,” 492; “The Co-ordination of Scientific 
Publication,” Nature 101, no. 2533 (16 May 1918): 213. 

66. Paul Weindling, “The League of Nations and International Medical Commu- 
nication in Europe between the First and Second World Wars,” in Chartier and Corsi, 
Sciences et langues en Europe (2000): 201-211. On language politics at the League of 
Nations, see Biltoft, “Speaking the Peace.” 

67. Patterson, “International Chemistry,” 535. 

68. Reinbothe, Deutsch als internationale Wissenschaftssprache und derBoykott, 409. 

69. Schroeder-Gudehus, “Challenge to Transnational Loyalties,” 98. 

70. Reinbothe, Deutsch als internationale Wissenschaftssprache und derBoykott , 415. 

71. Heinz Kloss, The American Bilingual Tradition (Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 
1977). 26-27. 

72. Edwin H. Zeydel, “The Teaching of German in the United States from Colo- 
nial Times to the Present,” German Quarterly 37 (September 1964): 315-392, on 333. 

73. Zeydel, “The Teaching of German in the United States from Colonial Times 
to the Present,” 355-356. On French education, often associated with the Northeast 
and with girls, as opposed to the masculine, German Midwest, see George B. Watts, 
“The Teaching of French in the United States: A History,” French Review 37, no. 1, 
pt. 2 (October 1963): 11-165. 

74. Kloss, The American Bilingual Tradition , 52, 60-61; William R. Parker, The 
National Interest and Foreign Languages (Washington, DC: Government Printing 
Office, 1954), 77; and Paul Finkelman, “The War on German Language and Cul- 
ture, 1917-1925 ,” in Hans-Jiirgen Schroder, ed., Confrontation and Cooperation: Ger- 
many and the United States in the Era of World War 1 , 1900-1924 , vol. 2 (Providence, 


Notes to Pages 182-190 

RI: Berg, 1993): 177-205, on 183, 188. Some of this sentiment was a holdover from 
late nineteenth-century resentment of parochial schools, especially Catholic and 
Lutheran ones. See ibid., 185-186. 

75. United States Supreme Court, Meyer v. State of Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), 
available at 262 / 390 .html. See also Finkelman, “The 
War on German Language and Culture,” 191-193. 

76. Holmes’s dissent in United States Supreme Court, Bartels v. State of Iowa, 262 
U.S. 404, 43 S. Ct. 628 (1923), *412. 

77. These figures are drawn from Zeydel, “The Teaching of German in the United 
States from Colonial Times to the Present,” 362, 368; Franz Thierfelder, Deutsch als 
Weltsprache. 1. Band: Die Grundlagen der deutschen Sprachgeltung in Europa (Berlin: 
Verlag fur Volkstum, Wehr und Wirtschaft Hans Kurzeja, 1938), 39; and Parker, The 
National Interest and Foreign Languages, 56, 76-77. On the collapse of French, see 
Watts, “The Teaching of French in the United States,” 42. 

78. G. A. Miller, “Scientific Activity and the War,” Science 48, no. 1231 (2 August 
1918): 117-118, on 117. 

79. Fritz Stern, Five Germany s I Have Known (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 
2006), 62. 

80. Georg Karo, Der geistige Krieg gegen Deutschland, 2d expanded ed. (Halle: 
Wilhelm Knapp, 1926), 10; Schroeder-Gudehus, Les scientifiques et lapaix, 136-137. 

81. Reinbothe, Deutsch als internationale Wissenschaftssprache und der Boykott, 
391-395; Cock, “Chauvinism and Internationalism in Science,” 267-268. 

Chapter Seven 

1. Dolf Sternberger, Gerhard Storz, and W. E. Siiskind. Aus dem Worterbuch des 
Unmenschen (Hamburg: Claassen, 1957), 9. 

2. E. J. Crane, “Growth of Chemical Literature: Contributions of Certain Nations 
and the Effects of War,” Chemical & Engineering News 22, no. 17 (10 September 1944): 
1478-1481, 1496, on 1481; Ruth H. Sanders, German: Biography of a Language (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 180; Michael Clyne, The German Language in 
a Changing Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 6; Paul Wein- 
dling, “The League of Nations and International Medical Communication in Europe 
between the First and Second World Wars,” in Roger Chartier and Pietro Corsi, eds., 
Sciences et langues en Europe (Paris: European Communities, 2000 [1994]): 201-211, 
on 211; and Hans Joachim Meyer, “Global English — a New Lingua Franca or a New 
Imperial Culture?,” in Andreas Gardt and Bernd Hiippauf, eds., Globalization and the 
Future of German (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2004): 65-84, on 68. 

3. Alan D. Beyerchen, Scientists under Hitler: Politics and the Physics Commu- 
nity in the Third Reich (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 14, 40. On later 
estimates, which place the numbers possibly as “low” as 15.5%, see Mitchell G. Ash, 
“Scientific Changes in Germany 1933, 1945, 1990: Towards a Comparison,” Minerva 
37 ( I 999 ) : 329-354, on 33 2 5 and Ute Deichmann, Biologists under Hitler, tr. Thomas 
Dunlap (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996 [1992]), 26. 

4. Ute Deichmann and Benno Miiller-Hill, “Biological Research at Universities 
and Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in Nazi Germany,” in Monika Renneberg and Mark 

Notes to Pages 191-194 


Walker, eds., Science , Technology and National Socialism (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1994): 160-183, on I ^i» 165; Deichmann, Biologists under Hitler, 5. 

5. Florian Schmaltz, “Chemical Weapons Research in National Socialism: The 
Collaboration of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes with the Military and Industry,” in 
Susanne Heim, Carola Sachse, and Mark Walker, eds., The Kaiser Wilhelm Society 
under National Socialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009): 312-338, 
on 321; Ute Deichmann, “‘To the Duce, the Tenno and Our Fiihrer: A Threefold Sieg 
Heil’: The German Chemical Society and the Association of German Chemists dur- 
ing the Nazi Era,” in Dieter Hoffmann and Mark Walker, eds., The German Physi- 
cal Society in the Third Reich: Physicists between Autonomy and Accommodation , tr. 
Ann M. Hentschel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012 [2007]), 280- 
316, on 280. On the Haber Institute, see Jeremiah James, Thomas Steinhauser, Dieter 
Hoffmann, and Bretislav Friedrich, One Hundred Years at the Intersection of Chemis- 
try and Physics: The Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, 19 11-20 11 (Berlin: 
De Gruyter, 2011). 

6. Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze, Mathematicians Fleeing Nazi Germany: Indi- 
vidual Fates and Global Impact (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 102- 
103; Charles Weiner, “A New Site for the Seminar: The Refugees and American 
Physics in the Thirties,” in Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn, eds., The Intellec- 
tual Migration: Europe and America, 1930-1960 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1969), 
190-234, on 214, 217. 

7. See Carola Tischler, “Crossing Over: The Emigration of German -Jewish Physi- 
cians to the Soviet Union after 1933,” in Susan Gross Solomon, ed., Doing Medicine 
Together: Germany and Russia between the Wars (Toronto: University of Toronto 
Press, 2006), 462-500, on 476. 

8. Yoshiyuki Kikuchi, “World War I, International Participation and Reorgani- 
sation of the Japanese Chemical Community,” Ambix 58, no. 2 (July 2011): 136-149; 
and Scott L. Montgomery, Science in Translation: Movements of Knowledge through 
Cultures and Time (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 221. 

9. The Depression also decreased the number of foreign members of German sci- 
entific societies. Beyerchen, Scientists under Hitler, 73. 

10. Mark Walker, Nazi Science: Myth, Truth, and the German Atomic Bomb (Cam- 
bridge, MA: Perseus, 1995), 125-126, 140-141; Volker R. Remmert, “The German 
Mathematical Association during the Third Reich: Professional Policy within the 
Web of National Socialist Ideology,” in Hoffmann and Walker, eds., The German 
Physical Society in the Third Reich (2012): 246-279, on 270. 

11. Beyerchen, Scientists under Hitler, 72. 

12. E. J. Gumbel, “Arische Naturwissenschaft?” in Gumbel, ed., Freie Wissen- 
schaft: Ein Sammelbuch aus der deutschen Emigration (Strasbourg: Sebastian Brant, 
1938): 246-262, on 252. On the “normality” of German science publications in this 
period, Gerhard Simonsohn, “The German Physical Society and Research,” in Hoff- 
mann and Walker, eds., The German Physical Society in the Third Reich (2012): 187- 
245, on 206. 

13. Beyerchen, Scientists under Hitler, 76. 

14. Hildegard Briicher and Clemens Munster, “Deutsche Forschung in Gefahr?,” 
Frankfurter Hefte 4 (1949): 333-344, on 335. 

15. Christopher M. Hutton, Linguistics and the Third Reich: Mother-Tongue Fas- 
cism, Race and the Science of Language (London: Routledge, 1999), 4; Claus Ahlz- 


Notes to Pages 194-201 

weig, “Die deutsche Nation und ihre Muttersprache in Konrad Ehlich, ed., Sprache 
im Faschismus (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1989): 35-57, on 36-37. 

16. Hutton, Linguistics and the Third Reich, 5. On Esperanto and Yiddish, see ibid., 

17. Leo Weisgerber, “Die deutsche Sprache im Aufbau des deutschen Volks- 
lebens,” Von deutscher Art in Sprache und Dichtung, v. 1 (1941): 3-41, on 3. 

18. Weisgerber, “Die deutsche Sprache im Aufbau des deutschen Volkslebens,” 3. 

19. Weisgerber, “Die deutsche Sprache im Aufbau des deutschen Volkslebens,” 12. 

20. Hermann M. Flasdieck, “England und die Sprachwissenschaft: Englische 
Sprachforschung als Ausdruck volkischen Denkstils,” Germanisch-Romanische Mo- 
natsschrift 31 (1943): 169-184, on 183. 

21. Konrad Ehlich, “Uber den Faschismus sprechen — Analyse und Diskurs,” in 
Ehlich, ed., Sprache im Faschismus (1989): 7-34. 

22. Clyne, The German Language in a Changing Europe, 175. 

23. R. E. Keller, The German Language ([Atlantic Highlands], NJ: Humanities 
Press, 1978), 604, 607. 

24. Eugen Seidel and Ingeborg Seidel-Slotty, Sprachwandel im Dritten Reich: Eine 
kritische Untersuchungfaschistischer Einfliisse (Halle: VEB Verlag Sprache und Liter- 
atur, 1961), 18. On militarism, see p. vii, on nominalization, see p. 31. 

25. Seidel and Seidel-Slotty, Sprachwandel im Dritten Reich, 136. 

26. Victor Klemperer, LTI: Notizbuch eines Philologen (Leipzig: Verlag Philipp 
Reclam jun., [1966]), 20. 

27. Klemperer, LTI, 24. See also Sternberger et al., Aus dem Worterbuch des Un- 

28. Lothar G. Tirala, “Nordische Rasse und Naturwissenschaft,” in August 
Becker, ed., Naturforschung im Aufbruch: Reden und Vortrdge zur Einweihungsfeier 
des Philipp Lenar d-Instituts der Universitdt Heidelberg am 73. und 14. Dezember 193s 
(Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag, 1936): 27-38, on 28. 

29. Edmund Andrews, A History of Scientific English: The Story of Its Evolution 
Based on a Study of Biomedical Terminology (New York: Richard R. Smith, 1947), 298. 

30. Johannes Stark, Nationalsozialismus und Wissenschafi (Munich: Zentralverlag 
der NSDAP, 1934), 10. 

31. Deichmann, Biologists under Hitler, 89. 

32. Mark Walker, “The German Physical Society under National Socialism in 
Context,” in Hoffmann and Walker, eds., The German Physical Society in the Third 
Reich (2012): 1-21, on 8. 

33. Philipp Lenard, Deutsche Physik, 4 v., 3d ed. (Munich: J. S. Lehmanns Verlag, 
1942 [1936]), ix. 

34. Philipp Lenard, England und Deutschland zur Zeit des grofien Krieges (Heidel- 
berg: Carl Winters Universitatsbuchhandlung, 1914), 5. 

35. Jan Wirrer, “Dialekt und Standardsprache im Nationalsozialismus — am Bei- 
spiel des Niederdeutschen,” in Ehlich, ed., Sprache im Faschismus (1989): 87-103; 
Franz Thierfelder, Die deutsche Sprache im Ausland, 2 v. (Hamburg: R. v. Decker, 
1956-1957), IE58; Dirk Scholten, Sprachverbreitung des nationalsozialistischen 
Deutschlands (Frankfurt a/M: Lang, 2000). 

36. Theodore Huebener, “What Our Enemies Think of the Value of Foreign Lan- 
guages in the Air Age,’” Hispania 26 (i943):i93-i94, on 194. 

Notes to Pages 201-206 


37. See document #91 in Klaus Hentschel and Ann M. Hentschel, eds., Physics and 
National Socialism: An Anthology of Primary Sources , tr. Ann M. Hentschel (Basel: 
Birkhauser, 1996), 281-283. 

38. Hannah Arendt and Gunter Gaus, “Was bleibt? Es bleibt die Muttersprache 
in Gunter Gaus, Zur Person (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1965): 11-30, 
on 21-22. 

39. Arendt in Arendt and Gaus, “Was bleibt?,” 21. 

40. Theodor W. Adorno, “Auf die Frage: Was ist deutsch,” in Adorno, Stichworte: 
Kritische Modelle 2. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1969): 102-112, on no. 

41. Adorno, “Auf die Frage: was ist deutsch,” in. On his English competence, see 
Adorno, “Scientific Experiences of a European Scholar in America,” tr. Donald Flem- 
ing, in Fleming and Bailyn, eds., The Intellectual Migration (1969), 338-370, on 340. 

42. Julius Schaxel, “Faschistische Verfalschung der Biologie,” in Gumbel, Freie 
Wissenschaft : 229-245, on 234. Emphasis in original. 

43. Siegmund-Schultz e, Mathematicians Fleeing Nazi Germany , 153. See also ibid., 
38, 142; Weiner, “A New Site for the Seminar,” 220-221; and Beyerchen, Scientists 
under Hitler , 36, on the linguistic and general psychological difficulties of emigra- 

44. Jean Matter Mandler and George Mandler, “The Diaspora of Experimental 
Psychology: The Gestaltists and Others,” in Fleming and Bailyn, eds., The Intellectual 
Migration (1969): 371-419, on 417. 

45. Constance Reid, Courant in Gottingen and New York: The Story of an Improb- 
able Mathematician (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1976), 157. 

46. Einstein to Lanczos, 11 September 1935, AEDA, Box 18, Folder: “C. Lanczos, 
1919-1940,” 15-246. An account of this correspondence can be found in Stefan L. 
Wolff, “Marginalization and Expulsion of Physicists under National Socialism: What 
Was the German Physical Society’s Role?,” in Hoffmann and Walker, eds., The Ger- 
man Physical Society in the Third Reich (2012): 50-95, on 77. 

47. C. Lanczos to Einstein, 14 September 1935, AEDA, Box 18, Folder: “C. Lanc- 
zos, 1919-1940,” 15-248-1. 

48. On French, see Fritz Stern, Einsteins German World (Princeton: Princeton 
University Press, 1999), 93. On Italian, see Einstein to Besso, 20 October [1921], in 
Albert Einstein and Michele Besso, Correspondance, 1903-/955, tr. and ed. Pierre Spe- 
ziali (Paris: Hermann, 1972), 170. 

49. Einstein to Besso, [late 1913], in Einstein and Besso, Correspondance , 50. There 
is only one sentence in English in their entire correspondence, written by Besso: “I 
have not yet found a practicable way to confront the results of the theory with experi- 
mental evidence.” Besso to Einstein, 12 July 1954, in ibid., 523. 

50. Einstein to Max Born, 7 September 1944, in Albert Einstein, Hedwig Born, 
und Max Born, Briefwechsel, 1916-19 55, ed. Max Born (Munich: Nymphenburger Ver- 
lagshandlung, 1969), 202. 

51. Einstein to Hahn, 28 January 1948, quoted in Klaus Hentschel, Die Mentalitdt 
deutscher Physiker in derfruhen Nachkriegszeit (1945-1949) (Heidelberg: Synchron, 
2005), 159. See also Einstein to Sommerfeld, 14 December 1946, in Armin Hermann, 
ed., Albert Einstein/ Arnold Sommerfeld Briefwechsel: Sechzig Briefe aus dem goldenen 
Zeitalter der modernen Physik (Basel/Stuttgart: Schwabe & Co., 1968), 121. 

52. Max Born, My Life & My Views (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968), 16. 
This memoir was originally composed in English. 

372 Notes to Pages 206-211 

53. Max Born, Problems of Atomic Dynamics: Two Series of Lectures (Cambridge, 
MA: MIT, 1926); and Born, Probleme der Atomdynamik (Berlin: Julius Springer, 

54. Max Born to Einstein, 2 June 1933, in Einstein, Born, and Born, Briefwechsel , 

55. Born, My Life & My Views , 38. 

56. Max Born commentary on letter to Einstein, 10 April 1940, in Einstein, Born, 
and Born, Briefwechsel , 19 2-19 3. 

57. Born to Einstein, 26 September 1953, in Einstein, Born, and Born, Brief- 
wechsel, 265. 

58. Einstein to Born, 12 October 1953, in Einstein, Born, and Born, Briefwechsel, 
2 66. 

59. Robert Marc Friedman, The Politics of Excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in Sci- 
ence (New York: W. H. Freeman, 2001), 232-250. 

60. On their facility with languages, see Jost Lemmerich, ed., Lise Meitner zum 
12 5. Geburtstag: Ausstellungskatalog ( Berlin: ERS-Verlag, [2003]), 12, 17. 

61. Ruth Lewin Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (Berkeley: University of Cali- 
fornia Press, 1996), 214, 258. 

62. See, for example, Meitner to von Laue, 19 November 1940, in Jost Lemmer- 
ich, ed., Lise Meitner — Max von Laue: Briefwechsel 1938-1948 (Berlin: ERS Verlag, 
1998), 104. 

63. Meitner to von Laue, 23 December 1940, in Lemmerich, Lise Meitner — Max 
von Laue, 108. 

64. Max von Laue, “Mein physikalischer Werdegang,” from Hans Hartmann, ed., 
Schopfer des neuen Weltbildes (Hamburg: Deutsche Hausbucherei, 1952), 178-207, 
reproduced in von Laue, Gesammelte Schriften und Vortrdge, 3 v. (Braunschweig: Frei- 
drich Vieweg & Sohn, 1961), III: xi. 

65. Von Laue, “Mein physikalischer Werdegang,” xi-xii. 

66. Meitner to Eva von Bahr-Bergius, 21 June 1944, reproduced in Lemmerich, 
Lise Meitner zum 12$. Geburtstag, 112. 

67. Sime, Lise Meitner, 358. 

68. Meitner to von Laue, 28 June 1946, in Lemmerich, Lise Meitner — Max von 
Laue, 452-453. 

69. See Meitner to Hahn, 27 June 1945, reproduced in Lemmerich, Lise Meitner 
zum 12 5. Geburtstag, 116-117. 

70. Meitner to von Laue, 12 November 1946, in Lemmerich, Lise Meitner — Max 
von Laue, 470-471. 

71. P. W. Bridgman, “‘Manifesto’ by a Physicist,” Science 89, no. 2304 (24 Febru- 
ary 1939): 179. 

72. Warren Weaver, diary entry of 25 May 1947, Rockefeller Archive Center, RG 
12. 1, p. 45, reproduced in Klaus Hentschel, The Mental Aftermath: The Mentality of 
German Physicists, 1943-1949, tr. Ann M. Hentschel (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 2007), 24. 

73. “The Fate of German Science: Impressions of a BIOS Officer,” Discovery (Au- 
gust 1947): 239-243. 

74. Gerhard Rammer, “‘Cleanliness among Our Circle of Colleagues’: The Ger- 
man Physical Society’s Policy toward Its Past,” in Hoffmann and Walker, eds., The 
German Physical Society in the Third Reich (2012): 367-421, on 377. 

Notes to Pages 211-21$ 373 

75. Niko Tinbergen to Margaret Nice, 23 June 1945, reproduced in Deichmann, 
Biologists under Hitler, 203. 

76. Samuel A. Goudsmit, “Our Task in Germany,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
4, no. 4 (1948): 106. 

77. For Meitner, see Meitner to von Laue, 12 November 1946, in Lemmerich, 
Lise Meitner — Max von Laue , 470; and Meitner to Hahn, 27 June 1945, reproduced 
in Lemmerich, Lise Meitner zum 12$. Geburtstag , 117. On other emigres, see Wolff, 
“Marginalization and Expulsion of Physicists under National Socialism,” 61. 

78. Henry J. Kellermann, Cultural Relations as an Instrument of US. Foreign 
Policy: The Educational Exchange Program between the United States and Germany, 
1945-/954 (Washington, DC: Department of State, 1978), 3. 

79. Arendt in Arendt and Gaus, “Was bleibt?,” 23. 

Chapter Eight 

1. D. Zaslavskii, “Velikii iazyk nashei epokhi,” Literaturnaia gazeta (1 January 


2. The full machine consisted of the 701 Analytic Control Unit, the 706 Electro- 
static Storage Unit, the 711 Punched Card Reader, the 716 Alphabetical Printer, the 
721 Punched Card Recorder, the 726 Magnetic Tape Readers and Recorders, the 731 
Magnetic Drum Reader and Recorder, and a Power Supply and Distribution Box. 
On computer hardware in this period, see Mina Rees, “Computers: 1954,” Scientific 
Monthly 79, no. 2 (August 1954): 118-124; and Cuthbert C. Hurd, “Computer Devel- 
opment at IBM,” in N. Metropolis, J. Howlett, and Gian-Carlo Rota, eds., A History 
of Computing in the Twentieth Century: A Collection of Essays (New York: Academic 
Press, 1980): 389-418. For all Hurd’s pride in the experiment, he got the name of his 
Georgetown collaborator wrong, naming him “Professor Dorot” (on 406). 

3. J. B. Donnelly, IBM Press Release, 8 January 1954, GUA-SLL 1:1-6/1954. 

4. Dostert quoted in W. Schweisheimer, “Language Translation by Electronic 
Computer,” Mechanical World (December 1955): 534—535, on 534. 

5. Quoted in Dorothy M. Bishop, “Breaking the Language Barrier,” Phi Delta Kap- 
pan 35, no. 8 (May 1954): 315-317, 320, on 317. 

6. Dostert quoted in Donnelly Press Release, 8 January 1954, GUA-SLL 1:1— 

7. See, for example: Jacob Ornstein, “Mechanical Translation: New Challenge 
to Communication,” Science 122, no. 3173 (21 October 1955): 745-748; “Language 
Translation by the Electronic ‘Brain,’” Science News-Letter 65, no. 4 (23 January 1954): 
59; and William N. Locke, “Speech Typewriters and Translating Machines,” PMLA 
70, no. 2 (April 1955): 23-32, on 30. As W. John Hutchins has noted in his excellent 
history of the experiment, science was deemphasized in most mainstream media ac- 
counts as “the newspaper reporters tended to choose only non-chemistry examples, 
since these gave impressions of the quality of the translations which could be more 
readily appreciated by readers than the chemistry ones.” Hutchins, “Tie First Public 
Demonstration of Machine Translation: The Georgetown-IBM System, 7th January 
1954,” (March 2006), available at, 
accessed 16 September 2011, on p. 12. Hutchins includes a sizeable bibliography of 
the press accounts. 


Notes to Pages 215-219 

8. Leon Dostert, “Report on Academic Developments, The Institute of Languages 
and Linguistics, 1952-53, Projected Activities, 1953-54,” 7 October 1953, GUA-SLL 

9. Leon E. Dostert to Edward B. Bunn, S J., 24 November 1953, GUA-SLL 1:1953. 

10. Memorandum of phone call, Robert Avery to Leon Dostert, 11 December 
1953, 2 pm, GUA-SLL 1:1953. 

11. N. W. Baklanoff, “Scientific Russian,” Modern Language Journal 32 (1948): 
190-194, on 191. 

12. J. G. Tolpin, “Teaching of Scientific Russian,” American Slavic and East Euro- 
pean Review 4 (August 1945): 158-164, on 158; idem, “The Place of Russian Scientific 
Literature in Bibliographical Work,” Journal of Chemical Education 21 (July 1944): 
336-342, on 336; Kurt Gingold, “Translation Pools — Ideal and Reality,” Journal 
of Chemical Documentation 1, no. 2 (1961): 14-19, on 14; and Joseph J. Gwirtsman, 
“Coverage of Russian Chemical Literature in Chemical Abstracts,” Journal of Chemi- 
cal Documentation 1, no. 2 (1961): 38-44, on 38. 

13. Boris I. Gorokhoff, Providing U.S. Scientists with Soviet Scientific Information , 
rev. ed. (Washington, DC: Publications Office of the National Science Foundation, 
1962), i. 

14. E. J. Crane, “Growth of Chemical Literature: Contributions of Certain Na- 
tions and the Effects of War,” Chemical & Engineering News 22, no. 17 (10 September 
1944): 1478-1481, 1496, on 1478, 1481 (quotation). Tbe number of Russian chemists 
grew by twenty- five times between 1875 and 1940, and they were increasingly pro- 
ductive, producing eighty times the quantity of publications over this period. I. I. 
Zaslavskii, “Rol 5 russkikh uchenykh v sozdanii mirovoi khimii,” Uspekhi khimii 13, 
no. 4 (1944): 32.8-335, on 331. 

15. Gingold, “Translation Pools,” 14. 

16. Advisory Panel on Scientific Information, “Minutes of the First Meeting,” 12 
October 1953, NSF Records, RG 307, Box 18, Folder: “Scientific Information Office: 
Advisory Panel on Scientific Information,” p. 4. 

17. Saul Herner, “American Use of Soviet Medical Research,” Science , N.S. 128, no. 
3314 (4 July 1958): 9-15, on 14. 

18. J. G. Tolpin, “Surveying Russian Technical Publications: A Brief Course,” Sci- 
ence 146, no. 3648 (27 November 1964): 1143-1144, on 1143. 

19. Office of Scientific Information, “International Exchange of Scientific Infor- 
mation,” 2 November 1955, NSF Records, RG 307, Box 18, Folder: “Scientific Infor- 
mation,” page 19. Tbe Russian language barrier had been cited in Vannevar Bush’s 
original position paper calling for the creation of this organization: Bush, Science: 
The Endless Frontier (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1945), 114. 

20. George Alan Connor, Doris Tappan Connor, William Solzbacher, and J. B. 
Se-Tsien Kao, Esperanto: The World Interlanguage , 2d rev. ed. (South Brunswick: 
Tbomas Yoseloff, 1966 [1948]), 4, 32. 

21. For a complete list of members of the IALA, see “Practical World Language,” 
Science News-Letter 66, no. 3 (17 July 1954): 34; and Watson Davis, “Practical World 
Language,” Science News-Letter 62 (5 July 1952): 10-11. 

22. Gode in IALA, Interlingua-English: A Dictionary of the International Language 
(New York: Storm, 1951), xxi. 

Notes to Pages 219-222 


23. Alexander Gode and Hugh E. Blair, Interlingua: A Grammar of the Interna- 
tional Language (New York: Storm Publishers, 1951), v. 

24. Alexander Gode, Interlingua: A Prime Vista (New York: Storm Publishers, 


25. Andrew Large, The Artificial Language Movement (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 
1985), 151. 

26. Arika Okrent, In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, 
Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Lan- 
guage (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2009), 210. 

27. E. Glyn Lewis, Multilingualism in the Soviet Union: Aspects of Language Policy 
and Its Implementation (The Hague: Mouton, 1972), 50. On propaganda, see Selig S. 
Harrison, The Most Dangerous Decades: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of 
Language Policy in Multi-Lingual States (New York: Language and Communication 
Research Center, Columbia University, 1957), 24-27. 

28. The exceptions were Georgian, Armenian, and Abkhaz in the Caucasus, 
which used their traditional scripts; Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Karelian in 
the Baltic region, which kept Latin scripts; and Yiddish, which retained Hebrew let- 
ters. (Yiddish was strongly repressed in the postwar period.) For the information on 
Soviet language policy in this se